Re-thinking ‘normal’


In structured inquiry, there is no ‘normal’. Because learning is so individual, there are no unnecessary hierarchies. At Coach House, our materials and methods are designed to minimize differences so we can close the artificial gaps created by age, year levels and expected benchmarks for performance that exist in many schools. People learn at different paces and age and year level are not necessarily indicators of where a student ‘should be’.

The key to successful teaching of English and Maths is to reduce concepts into their most basic elements. Current research in cognitive science tells us that children are easily overwhelmed by too much new information too quickly. To benefit from structured learning, they require practice – and lots of it. They need time to consolidate skills and concepts. It’s how adults learn a new woodworking skill, advanced guitar chords or new cooking techniques. From the basic elements, we then move into teaching skills when the student shows they are ready to move forward.

Meaningful assessment, not ranking
Assessment must be immediate. It must never be delivered in a high pressure situation and should be personalised and private between teacher and student. Ranking is rarely helpful to the student. A focus on ranking kids against each other is mostly for the benefit of those designing the learning program. It often relies on a single test delivered at one moment in time – offering at best an arbitrary snapshot of the student’s performance that day. And it can quickly become harmful to progress.

When ranking does motivate, it’s only because it prompts pride at beating another kid at something, and that isn’t an ideal goal. Far better to test and challenge the student to achieve their individual goals and beat their own score consistently each week until they see meaningful, consistent progress.

Explicit instruction
Explicit instruction and its cousin, direct instruction, are currently popular concepts in education. Those of us old enough to remember the good old days rejoice at the resurgence of these methods. Both describe teaching of content in small, sensibly-paced increments.

In both literacy and numeracy teaching, tasks are clearly defined – eliminating misinterpretation. The focus is on mastery and practice, not learning speed. Skills are introduced gradually, with only a small percentage of each lesson involving new material. There’s a lot of review and application of practice and reinforcement.

The current research behind the revival of direct and explicit instruction (as well as our own experience) tells us that all people can be taught. Children can and will improve academically with the right approach. Likewise, all teachers can succeed if they use the right methods and materials. But it may involve a lot of re-teaching, and schools just aren’t equipped to provide it to everyone who needs it.

At Coach House, learning starts with identifying the current skill level of the student. We design a program appropriate for that student, whatever their grade level or age. We also consider rate of learning – some people process information faster than others. There’s no ideal rate.

All of our materials are road-tested. Many of our explicit instruction resources are developed in-house by yours truly. I will whip out my trumpet at this point to say that I’ve written lots of textbooks and classroom resources used in schools all across Australia. I’ve worked with traditional publishers including Jacaranda, Macmillan Education, Pascal Press and Blake Education for decades. In 2020, we’re launching a new series of books under our own imprint as an educational publishing house. Stay tuned for updates on materials we will be making available as free downloads.

“Ranking kids against each other is mostly for the benefit of those designing the learning program.”

To contact Coach House for bookings or enquiries, call 0437 155 338 9am to 9pm seven days a week. To visit, call in at 22 Lake Street, Laurieton, or email us at allychumley@msn.com.

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