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Message from the Head of Secondary: A Magic Trick

09 November 2021

A message from our Head of Secondary, Chris Lowe.

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Magicians do their tricks in three parts.  First comes the ‘pledge’, when they show you something ordinary, like a dove. Then comes the ‘turn’, when something extra-ordinary happens – perhaps the dove disappears. Then comes the ‘prestige’ – the final grand gesture when the trick is concluded and the audience gasps as the dove reappears, or the volunteer is shown to be whole after being sawn in half. This process is a time-honoured one, so much so that we, the audience, now expect magicians to develop their trick in this way and part of our enjoyment comes from the anticipation that the ‘prestige-moment’ might fail.  Of course, it never does.

For some time teachers were encouraged to run their classrooms in a similar way. We should, we were told, set up the lesson so that students knew what they were about to learn. Then there should be a period of learning followed by a reminder of what they have learnt at the end. The ‘three-part lesson’ was surely a faultless method for putting across new learning to young people and the education world embraced the method for a time. Unlike a magic show though, which we tend to attend only now and then, students go to five or six different lessons every day and if every lesson developed along the same ‘three part’ pattern, it would surely become a rather dull routine eventually.

There is nothing inherently wrong with breaking learning up into chunks and most lessons do so in some form or another.  But sometimes learning takes longer than we think it might, sometimes learning happens quicker than we expect. In last week’s newsletter Mr. Horne referred to our “highly skilled and knowledgeable teachers” and because they are highly skilled, they are well placed to judge the point at which a student has grasped a concept or whether a student needs more time to reach their goal. Sometimes learning takes seconds.  Sometimes it takes minutes, hours, days, weeks or even months. Patience matters in education. Knowing when a student has truly reached their own moment of ‘prestige’, when the learning has been revealed to them and they understand the concept that they have been working so hard on, that is quite a trick. And when we see it happen, as the penny drops and the student has truly ‘learned’ – well, that moment really is magic.

Chris Lowe