The Scary Truth of The Walk Through

I was introduced to the concept of ‘the walk through’ recently during a chat about computer games with a young lad in one of my classes. The young gent in question was a proud gamer and regularly spent thirty pounds of his mother’s hard earned money on the latest games. She was happy to do so, he claimed, because he was so good at them. So good that he regularly finished them in a weekend.

I wouldn’t want to slur his good character but I questioned this obvious talent and wondered how he managed it. ‘The Walk Through’. On YouTube. Apparently he can go and follow someone else playing the game to get to the end quickly. Telling his mum that he’d finished made him feel good.

My initial outrage soon subsided though. How reflective is that of the school experience of many our kids? How often do we embed the notion that the end product is the be all and end all and the journey, so to speak, is not especially relevant? This boy knew that he’d get more plaudits by telling people of his success – completing the game and telling people about it- so how he got there was not really important to him. Who has taught him that? Where has he learned it?

Reading ‘The Game of School’ by Robert L. Fried this week led me to think about that walk through. He argues that teachers, students, parents are aware of the rules of the game even if we don’t refer to it. There is an unspoken code to which we all allude  in order to avoid ‘rocking the boat’.

‘The Game begins whenever we focus on getting through the school day rather than actually learning.’ Friel, introduction

We play the game by entrenching established practices whether they work or not. Kids know how to get through their day without rocking the classroom boat. And we provide the walk through. There is a suggestion that teachers are more than happy with this arrangement. I couldn’t possibly comment.

We inadvertently ensure that assessment procedures emphasise the grades rather than the learning and, Fried argues, kids become aware that exams are not there to assess their learning; they exist to assess Local Authority, who use them to assess schools, who use them to assess teacher competence.

‘Students come to learn that beating last year’s test scores is the thing adults in school care most about.’ Friel

Everyone, deep down, knows that yet we still wheel out what Ian Gilbert calls; ‘the Great Educational Lie’ that if you work hard and get good grades you will get a good job. I’ve always been an advocate of the policy that Learning and Teaching must be the priority of formal education or it fails to achieve very much.  So when do we finally grasp the great truth that the tail has, for some time, been wagging the dog? My student is, of course, not emblematic of students everywhere; but he is out there and he won’t be the only one.

I’m not sure I really have a solution apart from a huge drift towards honest continuous assessment but until we start talking about the walk through then we may as well just forget about real teaching and just teach to the damn test. That is how we will be assessed anyway.

One thought on “The Scary Truth of The Walk Through

  1. What would avoiding the walk-through look like? Learners might be provided with statements of what they have to learn, such as from arrangements documents, but using appropriate language for them to understand. They might then be asked to come up with their own plan for how they’ll approach that learning. Perhaps they might need to do some research, from the internet or from books. Or maybe they’d prefer to do an experiment or investigation. Then they’d have to choose how to demonstrate their learning; “evidence it”.

    I was privileged this week to see just this happening in one of Fearghal Kelly’s biology classes. It was early days with the group, but the sense that this was not “business as usual” was quite strong; both for the students and their teacher. If asked to describe why that was, I guess most would have homed in on the visible changes. Having read your post, I’m now thinking that a better way to describe the discomfort would be to say that Fearghal was not providing a walk-through. You wouldn’t think that would be such a big deal, but it clearly is. I now find myself wondering if “The end of the walk-through” could be an appropriate tag-line for Curriculum for Excellence.

    For me, with experience of teaching exactly the same course, in the same school, in a more traditional way, this was a strange experience. I felt like someone who had developed bad habits starting to learn why they weren’t appropriate. Despite the absence of walk-through, one of the girls was already beyond the level of her course in the energy-based definition she gave me of photosynthesis. Another was desperately rushing against the clock to get not just a basic end-of-lesson Tweet posted, but an image too, to show the progress she’d made.

    Rocking this boat isn’t going to be easy, but it’s the difference between schooling and education.

    As today’s Observer puts it:

    In Scotland, by contrast, the Curriculum for Excellence teaches skills for learning, life and work, trying to help young people to be self-aware, adaptable, resilient and determined – in or out of employment.

    These skills are gold. In a study by the University of Sussex University, students in two classes were taught the same content and acquired the same grade B in GCSE maths. However, in one group, the pupils took away “an expanded mind and a greater sense of confidence and capability in tackling all kinds of real-life problems and difficulties”. The others “had learned nothing of transportable value”. The first had been properly educated, the second had been merely schooled.

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