A few years ago, we enrolled our older children in a programme run by a local company who had a small swimming pool of their own and ran classes. It was a popular and successful course as measured by the number of children enrolled, and it all looked very professional. Parents could relax in a waiting area while their children were instructed, so I had leisure on a Saturday morning to look over the notices on the walls about how the programme of instruction worked.
It looked terribly complicated, much more so than the lessons I had received as a child, which mostly involved, well, swimming. Here, they appeared to be learning so many things! Progress was divided up into levels and at each level there were numerous objectives to be reached before the pupils could move on. It seemed that swimming teaching had advanced considerably since the primitive days of doing widths and then moving on to doing lengths, and maybe diving for a few things from the bottom of the pool.
Trusting that these professionals knew what they were doing (they were, after all, accredited by a national organisation) we continued to take the children to lessons dutifully each week, but when we took them to a swimming pool ourselves, they didn’t seem to be making much progress at all in the main thing. They weren’t getting good at actually swimming. At the same time, we weren’t being alerted to any problems by the swimming instructor. Their slow progress in the central skill must have been expected, or at least far from abnormal.
Finally, we gave up and withdrew them from the classes. We found an individual instructor who was attached to a nearby independent school, and made use of their large swimming pool for lessons. This instructor did not have a large check list of objectives. They had one objective: to teach our children how to swim. Actually swim. You know, stay afloat and move about in the water. Not really that complicated. At last, the children started to make reasonable progress.
Fiddly and diffuse objectives applied by well intentioned but misguided teachers leave children sinking to the bottom, and the worst thing is, everyone is so busy merrily ticking their boxes that they don’t even notice the children being far out, not waving, but drowning.