Defective teaching

One of my university lecturers, a long time ago (in Brighton, so also in a galaxy far, far away), told a story which was probably apocryphal. None-the-less, it made the point. It went like this…

In the 1980s, a British company decided to start buying in components from Japan. They were very specific in the contract that they required 95% without defects. They were not going to accept any nonsense from these foreign suppliers.

When the goods arrived, exactly 5% of the components wouldn’t work properly. The company contacted the suppliers to point out that this was at the margin of what they would accept. The Japanese firm were confused. “But we gave you exactly what you asked for”, they protested. “If you wanted 100% without defects, why didn’t you say that?”

The lecture was on quality assurance. The story highlighted the strange practice in Western business culture of tolerating products coming off the production line with faults. These products would either be sent back for correction or, if they were beyond repair, thrown away. The Japanese, however, had stopped expecting defects and started building quality in to every stage of production. Why allow a system which produces waste?

In Western teaching traditions we have the mentality of pre-1980s British manufacturing, only our tolerance for defects is much higher. Why else do we spend our evenings as teachers searching for defects, correcting them or simply discarding the end result of a student’s efforts as beyond rescue?

If you were to estimate the defect rate each time you collect and mark a class’s work, how high would it be?

What if we moved to a ‘zero defect’ policy in our classrooms? How would this look?

What if we could stop the practice of sifting through the end products, looking for error?

What if we spent our time designing the learning process well, delivering exemplary teaching and building in opportunities to pre-empt error? What if we aimed to get it ‘right first time’?

Let’s make a contract with our students for 100% quality.

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