One of the big responses to my article and Bloomer’s quotation was something along the following lines.
‘Maybe there is some truth to this, but are all skills composed of knowledge? Maybe this is true of history and literature, but is it true of practical skills like drama and football? Is it even true of something like maths?’
Here’s my answer.
- All complex skills¹ are composed of smaller units, and have to be taught by building up those smaller units.
- Sometimes (typically, but not always, in “academic” subjects) we call those smaller units knowledge. Sometimes (typically, but not always, in “academic” subjects) we call those smaller units sub-skills.
Here are some examples of what I mean
- History breaks down into knowledge: a typical end goal of a history curriculum unit might be to write an analytical essay about the causes of the First World War. The sub-units needed to achieve these skills include a lot of what we’d typically call knowledge – memorising dates, understanding sequences of events, knowing the roles played by key characters.
- Football breaks down into sub-skills: a typical end goal of training to play football might be to play – and win! – an 11-a-side match. The sub-units needed to achieve these skills are what we’d typically call sub-skills: being able to control the ball in tight spaces, pass accurately, tackle and head the ball, etc.
There are different labels for the small steps, but the crucial point is that both skills can be broken down into small steps and taught that way.