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: