In my last post I argued that skill cannot be taught, by which I meant that skill cannot be taught directly. Instead, I argued that knowledge is what is taught, and that skilled performance is what emerges when this is put into practice. This sparked a fairly interesting array of responses, so I thought I would elaborate further on these ideas in a follow-up post.
As Hirst put it some years ago, teaching is an intentional act. To teach is to intend to cause someone else to learn. As teachers, this means we have to think about the thing that we want to teach: we need to identify its nature, its structures, its associations, and so on. We then have to express that thinking about the thing being taught in some form of communication, most commonly the spoken word.
And what is it that we communicate? Even if there is an array of non-know-that things that live inside our minds (whether those be know-how, skill, ability, or something else), when you communicate with someone about those things, you are necessarily having to express this in terms of language about those things.*
This was the root of my argument about the teaching of skill. If I am skilled in some performance, and I want you to become skilled in that performance, then the medium through which that transition happens is the language of know-that statements. I must first intellectualise the skill in order to work out how to communicate it. I must then communicate it, you must hear the communication and interpret it, and then you must apply that inside your own mind in order to begin to develop the skill yourself.
To be taught, skill must be converted into knowledge, which is the currency of teaching, and then it must be converted back at the other end via practice. If someone is observing you practice, then, again, any communication about that practice (i.e feedback) must be converted into the currency of knowledge for communication to happen.
Some respondents to my last blog argued that this is just a semantic detail, but I am not convinced this is the case. Arguments about knowledge and skill are often tired and stagnant, and in part this is because we, as an educational community, have not always been very clear at what we mean by these terms and how they relate to one another. Greater clarity in terms of the role of taught knowledge in the growth of skills is one possible avenue by which we might move ourselves on as a community,
*One possible counter-argument here is to refer to modelling or demonstration. If I want to teach someone to do a handstand, or hold a pen, I might model this for them by doing it myself. I would argue however that doing the thing itself is not the same as teaching it. Whenever a teacher models something, there is communication (before, during or after the event) about the thing being modelled. If it were the case that modelling = teaching, then everyone would be teaching everything one does all of the time. Technically, when you model something you temporarily make yourself the object of study about which you are teaching.