There are two types of educational literature that Hywel Roberts’ book ‘Oops!’ isn’t. It’s not the dry kind — the sort of book that is well-meaning, but incredibly dull… The kind that is currently sitting dustily on your bookshelf with a bookmark where you gave up on page 4. It’s also not the “faddy” kind — the sort of book that looks hilarious, is full of hints and tips, but doesn’t seem to have any real substance. The kind where you’re never quite sure whether the section on ‘learning through the medium of Polos’ is just where the writer needed to fill his word count or is actually a stroke of teaching genius.
‘Oops!’ is neither of these. It’s witty and lively, but there’s a solidness behind every idea. We’ve never met Mr Roberts, but you can tell his methods are backed up by years of ‘bothered’ teaching (see point 3 below).
The subtitle to ‘Oops!’ by Hywel Roberts is ‘Helping children learn accidentally’. It’s a book about how to lure pupils into lessons, to get them learning without them realising that’s what’s happening — a book about ‘happy learning accidents’. Think of the last time you genuinely got excited about some learning in your classroom — it’s more than likely to have been something that wasn’t on your lesson plan… Maybe a class discussion moved things along a bit or a chance comment led to some learning that was way deeper than you originally accounted for.
And so, with a nod to Mr Roberts’ techniques (this is a man who likes his catchy lists!), here are five things to take away from ‘Oops!’… Five reasons to read it.
A radiator is someone who Roberts says exudes ‘botheredness, warmth and generosity of spirit’. A teacher who is patient, is emotionally intelligent, has a moral purpose, a growth mindset and the ability to help people shine. A drain is… well, a drain. ‘Oops!’ also encourages us to be dolphins (as opposed to puppies, sleeping bears and the ungrateful dead). You’ll have to read the book to find out the definitions, but trust us — they’re found in most staffrooms.
Comprehensive, ready-written schemes of work are useful in many ways, but as Roberts points out — “It’s all a bit fast-food-kebab: initially feels great, and then, a little later makes you a bit sick.” The best response, he argues, is to accept a scheme with thanks but not to be bound by it. To look for opportunities to add your own ideas. Any head of department worth their salt will appreciate and nurture this attitude.
’Botheredness’ is a great word Hywel Roberts introduces in this book. It’s what separates Memorable Teachers (capital M, capital T) from just teachers. In one of the many lively lists in ‘Oops!’, the author gives five Positive Teacher Acts (five features of being bothered). They are:
- 1. SMILING
- 2. LAUGHTER
- 3. ENCOURAGEMENT
- 4. PRAISE
- 5. TIME (giving of)
(a list within a list there — Hywel Roberts would love that!)
Looking at them now, they seem obvious. But it never hurts to be reminded of them. No one forgets a bothered teacher.
The key concept that underpins ‘Oops!’ is that great learning can happen without pupils realising it — without them recognising they’re being led somewhere new. This can either be truly accidental (Hywel Roberts gives a powerful anecdote of a missed opportunity in an IT lesson when a pupil asked ‘was Nelson Mandela an activist or a terrorist?’ and was swiftly put in his place) or as a result of planning to lure pupils into the lesson (digging a metaphorical hole, covering it with leaves and waiting for the inevitable fall into learning). ‘Oops!’ is peppered with anecdotes and examples that illustrate how to do this and what to do when learning accidents happen. It takes a cool head to go with the flow and leave the lesson plan behind, but off the beaten track is where the best learning often occurs.
’Holding your nerve’ is the title of the final chapter of ‘Oops!’ (subtitle: ‘when all around you are losing theirs’!). To give the impression that a lesson is improvised or that learning is the result of a happy accident takes confidence. It is a skilled act to (as Hywel Roberts says) “give opportunities to go with the flow of the learning” without relinquishing the “locus of control”. It takes nerve to set off on a learning journey without completely knowing where you will end up. Parts of ‘Oops!’ read like a pep talk, where Roberts’ obvious enthusiasm for making learners buzz is infectious.
Your top five list will no doubt be different — there is lots to take away from the book. But at its core, ‘Oops!’ encourages us to trust learners to lead the way and trust ourselves to retain control. This isn’t a one-time-read. It’s the sort of book you’ll want to return to when you’ve got questions like ‘How can I make that lesson more relevant?’, ‘Am I bovvered?’ and ‘Where shall I dig that hole so they all fall into it?’ Or if, using one of Hywel Roberts’ favourite words, you just want to get your pupils buzzing.
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