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Tait Coles on Punk Learning! – PP40

The topic of the week is Tait Coles on Punk Learning.


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This week we welcomed Tait Coles to talk about his concept of Punk Learning.

taitcolesTait is a Vice Principal at Dixon City Academy in Bradford, in charge of innovation and learning. He was also once a consultant for the local education authority. Paul wonders what Tait’s passion is driven by because teachers have enough to do and despite this Tait has managed to share his ideas and enthusiasms very widely indeed. Tait says it’s probably all because of being frustrated with the way education has been going in the UK where he thinks teachers are forced to design and teach lessons in a certain way. When he was on sabbatical as a consultant he realised that the focus is all wrong. As a result he tried out some of the aspects of what he calls ‘Punk Learning’ and they were successful. Then, it was essential to share this and form a ‘band of rebels’ who would reclaim the classroom for the learners.

Why Punk Learning?

Paul says his first impression of Punk was aggressive – how does this apply, then, to a classroom situation? For Tait, though, Punk is all about change and creativity – it can be a catalyst, a way of accelerating. In the early Punk days, there was a core of kids who weren’t happy with what was going on and they were determined to change it. So Punk Learning is about being creative and trying to inspire others to do something completely different. It’s about breaking the stereotypes of life chances relying on going to a particular school, being from a particular area or a particular ethnicity.

Tait says that the point of his book isn’t to get teachers to follow strategies or approaches (which isn’t Punk, it’s fashion), it’s more about getting teachers to think – not to think like Tait, just to think.

Where’s the structure?

Paul asks if there is any structure at all in Punk Learning. Tait explains that he didn’t call it free-form jazz learning for a reason. Punk Learning has structure and rigour. It’s all about rich, deep pedagogy. He points out that teaching is probably a mixture of art, craft and science. Tait, for example, is not keen on the 5 minute lesson plan notion as he doesn’t see how anything worthwhile can be planned in 5 minutes.

Tait stresses that the learning ideas, worksheets etc. which are so easily available nowadays need to be appropriate to your own situation, not just used as a short-cut. It could lead to conformity of lessons – which is the opposite of Punk Learning. Lessons in Punk style are unique, just like the students.

Punk Learning challenges the complacency of teaching and allows the children to be central to critical pedagogy – they become subjects of action and responsibility, rather than passive observers or consumers of knowledge.

What does a Punk Learning classroom look like?

A Punk Learning classroom would seem chaotic because learners would be working on all sorts of different things they have a passion for. One way this is used in Punk learning is for the children to come up with ‘Driving questions’ in a topic which they therefore have an automatic passion for answering.

This doesn’t mean the teacher is redundant. The teacher circulates, talks to every single learner and spends a lot more time talking than they might in a more traditional setting.

Tait talks extensively against any kind of conformity or regularity in teaching which he believes takes away the creativity and artistry of teachers. However, he does agree that there needs to be a body of knowledge and he points out that anyone who thinks Punk learning, student-centred learning or even progressive teaching is not about knowing facts, principles and rules, then they are completely missing the point. Tait is a science teacher and he couldn’t do his job without teaching concepts and facts – but, crucially, there are creative and Punk learning ways to do this.

What’s next?

Tait is now working on the concept of ’emancipatory education’ where the ‘sorting’ which goes on in UK education is challenged. At the moment, Tait believes children are ‘mechanically’ sorted by ethnicity, class, location, social status through the education system. He is working on ways to disrupt this.

Tait expands enormously on these themes and includes many anecdotes and stories – do take a listen to the episode.

Tait’s book is available on Amazon – Never Mind the Inspectors, Here’s Punk Learning

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