This much I know about…the Knowledge vs Skills debate

I have been a teacher for 25 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about the Knowledge vs Skills debate.

Without knowledge you cannot develop your analytical skills. As I wrote recently on David Didau’s blog, How can you analyse sonnets, then write your own, without knowing about Petrarch, Spenser, Shakespeare, et al? And then exploring Wyatt is exciting, then Douglas Dunn, Browning, Owen, Shelley, Heaney…the list goes on. Why move beyond the knowledge of the content at a pace when the content is so rich? Once you have all this knowledge, you can then analyse and evaluate with much more perception. Is, for instance, Tony Harrison’s Long Distance II a sonnet? What structural features does it share with a sonnet? Much easier to analyse and evaluate if you have a deep knowledge of the sonnet tradition and its most sublime practitioners.

Long Distance II

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

On the other hand, listen as Stuart Simmons, Headteacher of King Edward VII Comprehensive School in Ashford, Kent explains to Roy Mallard the difference between teacher-centred learning and pupil-centred teaching:

About johntomsett

Headteacher in York. All views are my own.
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3 Responses to This much I know about…the Knowledge vs Skills debate

  1. Some years ago I used to be an examiner for Art & Design an activity I really enjoyed and valued as it allowed me to see the work going on in different departments around London and the South East. I used to visit a photography course in West London, the resources for the department were fantastic far better than anything I had access to and to a degree this was represented in the work the students produced, the photographs were technically very good, always printed 12″X16″ which was big in the days of B&W chemical photography but the work was very sterile. I could admire the skills and knowledge and hard work that had gone into creating the work. It lacked any interpretation or understanding of context, genre and creativity. It was technically very skilled taught by a someone who was a really skilled and knowledgeable technician interested in the techniques of photography but who did not have the background knowledge and interest in creativity to help his students explore and understand the visual history and development of photographic language.

    For me it always represented a wasted opportunity for those students who had participated in a very strong technical course but had not been encouraged to explore their learning and develop their own creative responses in a historical and culture context that is central to art and design educational practice.

    Maybe this isn’t a contribution about skills versus knowledge perhaps its more about the importance of young people having skilled and knowledgeable teachers who are excited about their subjects and the potential of using their subjects to help develop young people as empowered, skilled learners who are able to synthesis their own learning.

  2. Pingback: Inset preparation | hayleyrobinson94

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