Let's teach teaching

July 10, 1998

It is surely astonishing that Lewis Elton (The THES, June 26) regards innovation by trial and error (i.e. "innovations (that) need refining over time") as the route to excellence in teaching, when it inevitably requires students to put up with their teachers' failings.

Lecturers should find better routes to professionalism than learning from mistakes. It is time that teachers were rewarded for successful efforts to get things right the first time through a proper understanding of how teaching and learning are inter-related.

There are more "approaches to teaching" than those Elton calls "teacher-centred" and "learner-centred". "Learning-centred teaching" is an alternative, in which teaching is matched to different kinds of learning and designed to cater for different kinds of lectures.

We now know that the methods of teaching basic skills introduced in primary schools after the Plowden report were disastrous, but it took us 30 years to be sure and to begin to change. A large fraction of more than a generation has been damaged. We do not want this to happen in higher education too.

John Sparkes

Sheethanger Lane, Hemel Hempstead, Herts

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