The education system has always been of interest to me. I started working in schools whilst I was still a university student and so, only recently having been a school student myself, seeing it from ‘the other side’ was fascinating.
It explained a lot of the questions that I had when I was at school. Like why certain subjects wouldn’t run – even though it would result in bright students missing important opportunities. Or why we had huge limits on the amount of printing we could do each term and yet were somehow expected to hand in piles and piles of coursework.
Yes, the answer to most of my questions was Money. Or the lack of it anyway.
Most school students have no real idea about how much things actually cost and – perhaps rightly so – still have high expectations of their teachers and resources available. “Why don’t you just buy us all ipads miss then we won’t have to print?”
But the system itself is an interesting one and has left me with more questions than answers.
I remember arriving at a school early one morning – as I have on lots of mornings- to deliver a robot workshop, only to find a child crying and wailing. He wouldn’t stop. There wasn’t a thing that the teachers could do to stop him.
On enquiring I learnt that he did this every morning. He didn’t want to be at school. He wanted to be with his mum.
I further learned that the school had of course, spoken to his mum – even filmed his behaviour for evidence – but for reasons unknown to me he was still dropped off and left in that state each day.
Seeing that, reminded me that I actually never liked school either. Learning? Yes. Even now, I can never seem to squeeze in enough learning time. But school? No.
And I’m not alone in this. Most of the kids I meet love learning – they are fascinated by the things we talk about and do in the workshops. I know this is also true for other workshops they take part in like cookery or photography etc. But ask them about school and most likely you will get a negative answer. There may be the odd lesson that they enjoy, but generally speaking they don’t like school. Why? What is the difference between workshops and school?
Surely if kids like learning, and schools are – supposedly – places of learning or a place where learning happens, surely then school should be fun or at least liked.
What is the difference?
It was one of those things that I had subconsciously known all along. And, without realising, have always implemented in to my own teaching – though I now use the word teaching less and less, for reasons which I will explain in another article.
Or, as I call it: problem solving or faciliated learning – i.e. learning that is not led from the front of the classroom. Instead of being fed information students have certain goals in mind and have to learn the knowledge they need to achieve those goals.
It is only after reading a few books on the subject and speaking with friends whom are teachers that I have begun to understand.
Young children learn to sit, crawl, speak, walk, run and so on almost by themselves, in a safe environment – usually the home.
When they fall over or get a word wrong, there is no pressure on them. No one is giving them a grade or a level based on how long it is taking them or how many times they have needed help, or which angle their foot is placed at when taking their first steps.
We are simply delighted with every sign of progress – no matter how small. And if things do take longer than normal, we are concerned only for the wellbeing of the child – not where they will be placed in a league table.
So this whole process of learning is fun & enjoyable. As children continue to grow they start to explore their environments. They will most likely bump their heads on tables as they grow. They fall off trees that they have climbed. They learn to negotiate and compromise on complex rules during off ground touch, hide and seek and so on. With their families they will encounter a range of situations including death of loved ones.
Everything is learned by being fully immersed in a given situation. Where the child’s own actions have consequences from which more learning takes place.
Most schools are opposite to this. Everything is more structured. Friendships formed are limited by choice.
Mistakes are still made but they they are not as diverse and more likely to be solved with the help of a teacher.
Experiences become less rich. Most knowledge is gained from textbooks or a single person. Far less from actual experimentation, immersion, negotiations and compromises. The time in which knowledge can be gained is fixed – usually 9am to 3pm – with precious few breaks and barely enough time for a child to think and reflect.
And thus, learning isn’t so fun anymore. School becomes synonymous with boring repitiveness and an artificial type of learning.
I realise this is a slight generalisation, many of my colleagues work very hard to make their learning more ‘engaging’ by shaking up lessons, off timetable experiences and so on. But due to the nature of exams and league tables, and of course the lack of funds, only so much can be done.
So what is the solution? How can we bring more active learning into schools?
Well, I will base the answer to this on the only evidence I have. The transformation that I have seen in the students that I have taught myself.
We need to step away from the front of the classroom. We need to trust our students to take charge of their learning. As we do when they are aged 0 – 5 years old.
We need to stop being authorities over them. Instead of telling them to ‘sit up straight’, ‘do as you’re told’, ‘look interested’, ‘tuck your shirt in’ and so on. We need to build a relationship of mutual respect and understanding. One that says I am here to help you in your learning journey and in return I hope that you will be motivated and excited and do well for yourself. I hope that with whatever subject you study you also learn that happiness, respect and kindness are some of the most important things that we must learn and practice everyday.
How is this implemented in our workshops?
I very rarely ‘teach’ from the front. In fact I don’t really think of my workshops as me teaching, but instead I ask myself: what will my students be learning and how will they learn it?
What projects will they find interesting and what resources can I provide so that they can explore and play?
We have fun, interesting, 2 sided conversations about robots, how they work and how to make a robot. I show them how to get started, types of things that can be achieved and, by this point, they are excited to learn and to get involved. They want to learn.
When inspired, student’s don’t need to be told to look like they want to be there – they are already sat up straight looking neat and tidy- in fact many are chomping at the bit to get started with making!
And then during the session, they will make mistakes, but they don’t give up, because they are so enthused.
They learn so much because they, very consciously, have made that choice.
And that is a beautiful thing. It doesn’t increase costs and, whilst I will never pretend to understand the workload and pressures of a full time teacher, I daresay I think it might help because teachers and students would work together on their learning as opposed to separately.