Just tell ’em

Earlier this academic year I was at the Micheala “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers” book launch event and saw Olivia Dyer, their charismatic Head of Science, coin the phrase ‘just tell ‘em.”

Since then #JustTellThem has developed into something of a fracture point and has been used as a convenient short-cut for the familiar traditional progressive debate; traditional teachers just tell ’em and the more progressive use what they see as more imaginative approaches.

My feeling is that Olivia’s phrase has been, either accidentally or willfully, misunderstood particularly by those suspicious of traditional educational methods.  I’m pretty sure most of those at the book launch recognised that when Olivia said ‘just tell ‘em’ she did not mean simply reading a list of facts from a list in the dry monotone made famous by THAT teacher in Ferris Bueller’s day off.  Olivia’s proudly didactic speech was well planned, logical, passionate and utterly compelling, and I’m sure her students don’t get bored.

As a pretty didactic teacher myself, I do a lot of just tell ‘em.  But, of course, it doesn’t mean ‘just’ tell ‘em.  It means the banging of imaginary swords on imaginary shields while shouting “Out! Out! Out!” so loudly that teachers come in in from other rooms to check everything’s all right.  It means the decapitation of deposed kings with metre-long rulers. It means swooping around classrooms with arms outstretched as a Spitfire dog-fighting a BF-109 and it means carefully planned and illustrated mini-lectures supported by thoughtful board-work that takes me hours to plan and draw.

Nobody who believes in ‘Just tell ‘em’ thinks it means just tell ‘em. Giving students a knowledge organiser, reading it to them and then telling them to learn it off by heart would be, of course, terrible teaching, but nobody is advocating that.  I take issue with the idea styles like mine are just “an excuse for ****  teachers who are devoid of better ideas” and am grateful to open minded practitioners such as the author of the linked article for not being dismissive of styles different to their own.


2 thoughts on “Just tell ’em

  1. I think the criticism of the style being unimaginative stems from those who see missed opportunities to deepen engagement and learning. Well designed learning sequences that guide students toward questioning information and exploring ideas tend to be more powerful than sequencing that tells them information, regardless of how entertaining the delivery.


    • chrismwparsons says:

      In my experience, the two approaches work beautifully together. You don’t need to construct elaborate group work or investigative scenarios (Except occasionally – for the purposes of experience and consolidation.)

      Liked by 1 person

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