Let the students do the work

I am not alone in observing that in many schools, it is the adults who do most of the work. This may explain why some pupils behave in such a passive way. They wait until the teacher starts the lesson and the slowest pupil is ready, before any work begins, they pace themselves at the pace of the least motivated and feel that the success and interest level of the lesson is the sole responsibility of the teacher. “I like Art because the teacher is fun”, “I hate History because it is boring” can be heard in many pupil interviews about their school experience.

Research suggests that the person doing the work is the one who is learning. If the pupils are working less hard than the teachers, there is something wrong.

Many children will sit back and let the teacher do all the work. What is going on?

I work  – you work

I have used a thermometer with pupils who rely on the teacher or teaching assitant to complete their work for them. For each piece of completed work I ask them to use 2 colours to show who contributed the greatest effort to the completion of the work. This then leads to the conversation about how the child’s contribution can be increased.

One teacher I met set herself a rule: Don’t do anything the children can do for themselves: take the register, give instructions for a talk to the class, divide the class into workgroups, mark spellings; assign jobs and tasks to children, preparing and putting up displays……etc.

This helps to develop a sense of community in a classroom and grows responsibility and the ability to make and reflect on decisions. Like any job, it may take longer than the teacher doing it him or herself, but the skills learnt and the discussions that take place are irreplaceable.

Students up front

A couple of years ago I met up with Tara, a teacher from Hurunui College New Zealand who introduced Choice Theory and Reality Therapy into the school where she taught. I was interested to know how much the pupils relied on the teacher for starting lessons. Tara said that the school had put a lot of time and thought into training the students how to learn to use leadership and initiative in the classroom and move away from being the passive recipients of the teacher’s plans and class management. For example, if the pupils entered the classroom for an Art lesson, and there was an image on the whiteboard, they knew that this was a cue to start to discuss ideas about the picture, or even start some research into the work of art, if they recognised it. This meant that the pupils motivated to get going did not have to wait for the the stragglers, and could make a contribution to the start of the lesson. Tara also had a rule that if a pupil could be up at the front explaining or instructing, they would be up there, not Tara.

Six year old teachers

I was in the classroom of a school in Slovenia, when this six year old girl, with a food intolerance, put on a presentation about the foods she was allowed to eat, should she go to another child’s house for a party. She started with the wrappers of foods she was allowed to eat and took off those that she was less fond of. She showed the class how to tell from the list of ingredients if there were any things she reacted badly to, and they asked her questions. The display stayed up in a corner for the next couple of weeks. Think of the benefits of this approach: this girl has taken responsibility for her own diet, has made it easy for others to invite her over for parties and not worry about the food, she has taught them about ingredients, packaging, her medical condition and has increased her self worth in the successful execution of this project.

Absent Friends

In a class down the corridor, a 7 year old girl had volunteered to visit a classmate who had been off school, sick, for a few days. The girl in the picture was describing how she had taught her friend the definition of a straight line and an intersection, and how these can be labelled a, b, c etc. This is a common practice in this school and ensures that the absent child does not lose touch socially or educationally during their absence. It also reinforces the child-teacher’s and her classmates’ learning during this “revision” session. The class were rapt during her explanation, as was I. The teacher said that the girl explained it far better than she had in the first place!

Schools of the future have to be “owned” by the pupils and offer them every opportunity to develop and practice their skills of communication, leadership and responsibility. How often do we see the opportunities for these things wasted in our schools?

Now read: What Your Pupils Really Want

Choice Theory: The Quality World

Brain Chemistry

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