The expert ICT teacher and Something Borrowed

The bass guitar is one of the few instruments – perhaps the only instrument – on which you can play a duff note and get away with it. The electric organ will, in certain circumstances, afford you a licence to mess up and then, if challenged, suggest that if someone can’t understand modern jazz then they shouldn’t be listening to it. But the bass guitar is different, because if the notes are played in a low enough register, many people can only feel rather than hear them, and so cannot tell whether a note is right or not.

Susie Gillis does not play duff notes.Something Borrowed (taken from the video, below)

Like the rest of the Something Borrowed band, Susie plays perfectly. Indeed, she is not unique in that respect. When she handed the bass guitar to lead singer Tim Haycocks, he too was faultless. I heard the band play at the recent Naace conference, and they were brilliant. But so what? Isn’t this what you would expect?

Yes, but what the band illustrated for me is that true expertise goes beyond mere skill-learning. Look at any expert, in any field, and there is an ease about them which tells you that they are an expert. They behave in a particular way, they hold themselves in a particular way, and if they work with tools, such as musical instruments, they hold them in a particular way too. When I showed Elaine  a video of Something Borrowed (see below), she said, within seconds,

They’re musicians.

She was right, of course. Look at their credentials, and you can verify that for yourself. But how did she know? “Because”, she said, “They’re not trying to prove themselves. There are no histrionics.”

They make it seem so easy.

The lady who said this to me on the dance floor was absolutely right. That’s another attribute of experts: they make what they do look easy. Perhaps too easy: why do so many people assume that anybody can teach? Because they have seen expert teachers at work. And, more damningly, how much damage is being done to the teaching profession by those who assert that children no longer need teachers because children, who are all so-called “digital natives”, can teach themselves with just a bit of help from a “guide on the side”?

I don’t think that the characteristics of expert musicians and expert ICT teachers are that different:

  • They have to know their tools of the trade, at a deep, not a superficial, level.
  • They have to have been willing, and had the opportunities, to study and practise – in other words, to develop their proficiency.
  • They have to enjoy what they do …
  • … But also believe that they could do more, and do something different, perhaps even something that nobody else has managed to do.
  • They have to be able to inspire others in some way, whether that is merely getting people onto a dance floor or even, in the longer term, making others think they would like to take this up for themselves.

I am sure that some of the initiatives we have seen in the UK’s educational ICT sphere have been useful to some teachers. The New Opportunities Fund training, though much disparaged, was (like the curate’s egg) excellent in parts. The QCA’s scheme of work for ICT in primary schools was very useful up to a point, and for many teachers. The Key Stage 3 National Strategy for ICT saw some excellent resources produced and disseminated. Nevertheless, being a devil’s advocate, and not wishing to decry the brilliant efforts of thousands of teachers, shouldn’t we, as a nation, have had our sights on creating expert ICT teachers rather than only providing patches and toolkits?

At the moment, the Royal Society is looking at the role of computing and ICT in schools, largely because so few students wish to take ICT at a higher level, take computer science courses at university, or contemplate a career in technology. I wonder if we would be experiencing all this had we made sure that, in addition to providing nicely-packaged in-service training materials and high quality resources, we had also taken a longer term view and focused on “producing” a generation of expert ICT teachers.

But enough of these “worthy cogitations”! Relax and enjoy a number from Something Borrowed: