The pedagogy of Zog

Nearly every night this week, I’ve read my littlest his current favourite story at bedtime. ‘Zog’ by Julia Donaldson. Every time I’ve read it, Madam Dragon’s pedagogy has struck me. For those of you who, unlike me, don’t know it off by heart, here’s her repeated classroom phrase…

‘Now that you’ve been shown, you can practise on your own. And you all be expert fliers by the time you’re fully grown.’

Madam Dragon, the expert, demonstrates the skill to the novices. Then she gives the learners time to practise. They learn how to fly, how to breathe fire and finally how to capture a princess. None of this is easy. These are seriously tough dragon skills. But her pedagogy is sound. Throughout this ‘I do, you do’ process they become confident in their learning.

I think in Art and Design we are pretty skilled at this. Modelling has always been vital to allow our learners to think and work through the creative process. I do worry however that sometimes, we can be guilty of simplifying the task rather than encouraging the learners to persevere, think hard and practise the tough stuff. Lessons usually start with the imparting of knowledge needed. They normally feature at least one or two demonstrations, where pupils gather around the teacher, get close to the art work and watch the technique or skill being demonstrated by the teacher. This might be broken down into steps to allow pupils to build confidence. Before finally encouraging pupils to return to their own desks and practise. In pandemic times, demonstration is no less important, but how we go about this has other challenges. I would however argue that the health and safety restrictions imposed upon us as a result of covid, can provide valuable opportunities for us to really focus on the pedagogy of modelling throughout the lesson, supporting teachers to improve their practice and in turn the learning opportunities for our young people.

I wonder how often we have been guilty of getting learners to guess how to do something we haven’t yet shown them? Or encouraged them to try something out without ever explicitly teaching them the process. Then wonder why their results weren’t as we had hoped. I know as I reflect upon my own teaching there have been many lessons, especially early on in my career, which would have been far more productive if I had just given pupils more direct, specific instruction. Of course there are times, especially in art and design when learners are encouraged to experiment. Indeed they require to work independently and creatively especially as they move up the school. However, in order that they are confident to do this successfully, it is vital that they have learned the important foundational knowledge as well as having had time to practise in order to develop their confidence. This is what allows them to move from the beginning of the learning cycle to the more advanced stages as they become more accomplished.

The ‘I do, we do, you do…’ technique has been really helpful for me when considering modelling. Similar to the way in which Madam Dragon herself first shows the dragons how to fly, we cannot expect our learners to know how to do something without first being shown. When planning lessons, it helps me to clarify what exactly I want the learners to know and be able to demonstrate by the end of the lesson. If I’m clear on the learning intention, then I am in a better position to make this clear to young people. Using a visualiser or my usual iPad set-up allows me adapt my normal demonstration so that pupils can see me working on the projector screen. I can model the use of watercolour. How to draw something to scale. Or even how to structure a written response. In some ways I think it is actually more powerful than a time-limited, round the table demo. The modelling can be continued throughout the lesson, and allows the ‘we do’ stage to take place very easily. Pupils can join in with me and take part in the practical task, still glancing at the screen to build confidence and learn from the expert whilst thinking hard. I can direct learners to watch again if necessary, and I can re-model tricky aspects if need be. In doing this, they are preparing to move to the ‘you do’ stage, which allows them to demonstrate their learning independently. Of course, the beauty is that learners don’t all necessarily need to move to this next stage at the same time. But when they do, they have the experience and knowledge to apply the learning effectively, with hopefully pleasing results. This accomplishment and success, is what I believe provides the biggest sense of achievement and motivation for our young people.

There is nothing greater than seeing your pupils finally grasp that which you have taught and their visible confidence, sometimes even enjoyment, in relishing the challenge and being successful. Just like Madam Dragon proudly watched her protégés fly off into the sky having learned all they needed to become successful, so too should we enjoy the privilege of being able model our knowledge and experience. Not just in the classroom under the visualiser. But in all we do as humans.

Thanks for reading my ramblings. Have a good week.

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