Thursday, 15 July 2010

Forwards & Backwards

Have you ever found as you watch kids grow that they seem to take 2 steps forwards and 1 step back? Having taught for many years, it's always a frustration for me when I see my students forgetting something that I'm sure they understood the lesson before. So many times they fail to take one piece of understanding and apply it to, what seems to me, a very similar situation.

I guess it's only really hit home recently as I watch my pre-schooler learn. There are times when he seems quite capable of counting to 50 with little or no mistakes. Then on another occasion he will get himself confused before he gets to 10. Can he do it? Yes - when his brain is working in that way; no - when something else has got in the way.

As teachers we rarely get real insight into the way that our students' brains work. We often miss tiny clues that show how their learning meanders from one stage to another. All too often we think about what we have to teach them in terms of the logical steps or stages. "Once you understand can move on to this..."

Yet research - and if we're honest, our own experience - suggests that learning rarely happens step-by-step. For something to really stick it has to have a link to something that has already established itself in our understanding. But that doesn't mean that those steps are the same for every person and they're often not clear at all.

As parents, teachers and anyone involved with children will tell you, learning happens in unexpected ways, sometimes in tiny, incremental stages and sometimes in great leaps. And just because something has been learned in one context, applying it again, whether in the same context or another one, doesn't necessarily happen automatically.

The key is conversation. Finding out what the learner's understanding is at the start is so important because you can then adapt how you are teaching something to make the links it needs. The same thing may need to be taught several times in several contexts and that is not a failure of the teaching method or of the learner. It's all about building the links between different aspects of understanding.

Keep talking to the kids and you will be amazed at how much they learn and how easy it is to move them on to the next thing.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Home Education and Me

Children grow so fast. My eldest will soon be school age and I've been thinking about how much he's learned already, just by being home. He's like a sponge soaking up life and learning with so little apparent input. I'm truly amazed.

As I think about school I am feeling more and more that I'd rather continue to educate him at home. Home education (or homeschooling elsewhere in the world) seems so natural. The more involved I get, the more it seems like the best way, if not for all children, at least for a good proportion of them. Getting 1to1 attention, being able to learn from where you are at and not try to keep pace with everyone else in the class, having the option of taking your learning off at a tangent according to your skills and interests...wouldn't that be a lovely way to grow?

Speaking as a teacher, one of the key difficulties schools face is being able to work with every child. All too often the quiet ones, or the ones who just get by, are missed. You are busy making sure the most able are stretched and the least able are supported, those who are disruptive are occupied and those who are occupied are doing the right thing. How can you spend the time with every child ensuring that you have met them at their point of learning? Even the best teachers that I know admit that their classroom teaching has limitations.

That's not to say that good learning doesn't happen in the classroom setting. It does, and I've seen it in my own classroom. It's just that I'm getting a stronger and stronger feeling that there must be a better way. Perhaps small group teaching can provide the benefits of peer teaching as well as adult support. But schools can rarely sustain this for any great length of time - think of the cost of having enough staff to be able to teach the children in this way.

Home education gives that opportunity to meet each child at the point at which they are learning. This can only happen when you are really tuned in to each child and have the time to spend figuring out where they are at in the development of their understanding.

My passions are this space!