The #EduBotch Project: What is it and why should we bother?

The #EduBotch project is designed to bring a taught simplification into the spotlight for two essential purposes: to decide if it is useful or detrimental, and to define the threshold concept that is being put at risk.

So, for example, teaching that ‘a comma is a breathing space’ is arguably detrimental because, whilst it has some validity in some writing, it masks the fact (the threshold concept) that commas actually demarcate clauses. When a teacher, later on in a student’s learning journey, comes to unpick this misconception, they may find that it is too late. ‘Comma as breathing space’ is a powerful simplification that doesn’t lend itself to further adaptation.

The evolving bank of #EduBotches can be found here.

The benefits

We should bother with #EduBotches because they present us with an opportunity to clarify threshold concepts in all our subjects and avoid taught misconceptions. Effectively, we will collectively learn from our mistakes, as much as we would expect our students to do the same. Learning that ‘comma as breathing space’ compromises ‘comma as clause demarcation’ is useful to a generalist teacher in primary. If I know that I’m working towards the threshold concept ‘comma as clause demarcation’ I have a greater sense of purpose and direction, and that can only benefit my students.

Some risks

I’m very sensitive that, having named these taught misconceptions ‘edubotches’, I am possibly stigmatising teachers, who may feel defensive or guilty that they have misdirected their students. ‘Botch’ is a strong word, with negative connotations. I feel strongly that the hashtag should be powerful and attention-seeking, but this needn’t imply that a ‘botch’ is something for which individual teachers are held responsible. At the earliest stage, I would like to address this because it is vitally important that the #Edubotch project (frivolous though its hashtag might be) facilitates fruitful dialogue between key stages.

With this in mind, an #EduBotch should stand apart from any individual teacher. Yes, it is annoying when, in KS3, you meet a taught misconception and need to unpick it. However, the teacher that is supposedly ‘guilty’ of having taught the misconception, has little opportunity to learn from the mistake unless this dialogue takes place between key stages.

My earnest desire is that the bank of #EduBotches becomes a useful resource for teachers of early key stages and primary curriculum designers, to ensure that simplification of concepts is done with a knowing view to the long-term deeper understanding required in later key stages.

So, whilst we can have fun jibing at our multi-tasking, generalist colleagues in primary (and I should add that I teach primary), we need to be diplomatic in separating the botch from the teacher (as we are adept at doing with our students, with regard to their behaviour). Unlike a botch job by a cowboy plumber, an #EduBotch is often a bi-product of an education system that passes students from one teacher to another every year, increasing the risk of discontinuity; it is also the result of the necessity for a generalist approach in primary. We can’t expect our primary teachers to have a full, deep understanding of every subject for which they lay the foundations. But, crucially, we can aim to enhance their understanding through constructive dialogue.

A little bit of ‘take and give’

If we want to avoid the recurrence of a taught misconception, we have a responsibility, when describing an #EduBotch, to describe its impact and to some extent define the deeper understanding that is at risk and to offer an alternative teaching strategy. This will obviously take time and effort, but it is important to appreciate that we have a shared responsibility, between key stages, to offer constructive advice alongside our critique. Indeed, this is the most important part of the collaborative project: to clarify and foreground the threshold concepts that underpin deep understanding in our subjects.

In summary:

  1. An #EduBotch is an oversimplification of a concept that does not lead students on a path to deeper understanding, but in fact impedes the student’s progression;
  2. An #EduBotch stands apart from the prior teacher. It is not indicative of malpractice; it is a good faith attempt by a generalist to address a concept without full appreciation of its impact on later learning;
  3. The definition of an #EduBotch needs, in time, to be supported with a definition of the threshold concept that is at risk and a recommended alternative teaching strategy. This is so that we learn from our mistakes and improve our teaching practice.

The success of the project is evidenced in:

  1. Constructive dialogue between key stages;
  2. The definition of threshold concepts in each subject;
  3. A bank of #EduBotches that are countered with recommended alternative strategies for fruitful simplification

One final comment: I’m exploring how best to curate #EduBotch as a resource to which we can collaboratively contribute. Any advice in this regard would be warmly appreciated. I’m particularly interested in how to share a Google Sheet, and allow people to contribute, but without risk that the document could be accidentally wiped.

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