What Laurel or Yanny taught me about education

Sats and early GCSE papers apart, the big question troubling schools has been whether that computer voice says “Laurel” or whether it says “Yanny”(or indeed, “Yammy”). Tes reports. 

As a teacher I have found the Laurel/Yanny auditory illusion highly instructive, finally casting light on one of the great ongoing mysteries of teaching. Now, at last, I understand why I can utter a particular word or phrase and find that several students appear to hear something completely different.

Take one particular word of the moment, for instance: “revision”. One group of my students hears it as that, but another plainly just hears it as “Fortnite session”. I now realise that this is entirely my fault. The pitch of my voice is clearly too high for some, way too low for others.

For the exam itself, “answer the exact question set” often converts to “write whatever you damn well want to” and “remember to use the data” and “remember to write a conclusion” are plainly heard by some as “Yanny” and “Laurel” respectively. If only I had known all this sooner.

But this strange and frustrating auditory phenomenon is not confined to students. For example, when headteachers speak publically of a “crisis” (as in funding or the recruitment and retention of staff) our government seems only to hear “record levels”.

Similarly, while many of us heard Michael Gove declare that all students must take the government’s new “world-class” GCSEs and that the old IGCSEs did not count as such, no one heard him seemingly add the words “except in the case of grammar and independent schools”.

Even more amazingly, entire reports are sometimes misheard by government or – like dog whistles – not even heard at all. “Research shows that grammar schools do no better in terms of pupil achievement than other schools” came the recent report based on nearly half a million students. Given the £200 million that the prime minister then authorised for grammar school expansion, not a single word appears to have gone into her ears.

What exactly do these people hear, I wonder?

Read the full article What Laurel or Yanny taught me about education

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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