So I live and work in Australia. I’ve lived and worked in the UK, France and the USA. And one of the things that annoys me most is the way that school classrooms are shown in the media. TV shows like The Simpsons – as much as I love it – aren’t helping us make change in schools. It’s not just the Simpsons of course. Pretty much anytime you see a primary school classroom on TV it’s the same. All the kids sat in rows, facing the teacher.
But that’s now how our classrooms should be run these days. This old-fashioned (nearly typed ‘old school’!) portrayal of our classrooms is making it trickier for important changes to happen. Changes like moving away from teacher-focused, ‘stand up the front and listen to me tell you things’ way of teaching. We call this ‘teacher-directed’ learning. The teacher holds all the knowledge and lets the kids know when they are allowed to learn new things. This is the kind of teaching that can be good for some kids. And its definitely good for all kids some of the time…sometimes kids ‘don’t know what they don’t know’ and so we have to help them see where their gaps are.
Student-centred learning though is what we are looking for in our schools today. This looks…well, very different. And different in each classroom and each day. Actually it doesn’t matter what it looks like as long as it’s focused on understanding what each child needs to learn – not just page 38 of the textbook because yesterday we did page 37. This is probably controversial to some people but I have to say I’m not sure i care. I want education in our primary schools to look like dynamic spaces where each child gets to have a say in their learning (not IF they learn but HOW they learn). I want them to be able to revisit things when they don’t get something or have options to learn in different ways through conversations, discussions, videos, modelling, drawing and any other way that helps them learn.
If you think back to your school education, were you interested and excited all the time? Did you love it when the teacher stood up the front and ‘told’ you facts and expected you to copy from the board?
I did and I didn’t learn much at all that way. I always had to go home and re-write my notes, re think the answers and then ask more question (usually of my friends as my teacher wasn’t available for questions!).
In Australia we are seeing more and more schools move to student-centred learning. Perhaps its different in the USA. Maybe that’s why so many TV classrooms still look like the Simpsons. Individual desks (to stop chatting), Lined up facing the front (all the better to watch the teacher and copy from the board). We do get a lot of USA TV in Oz. But this one little thing – representing classrooms as if they haven’t changed since the 1960s really bothers me. How can we get good learning going in our schools if we rely and reinforce these ways of teaching and learning.
That’s my rant for the day…what do you think?