Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Paradigm for Education

My thanks to Voluntaryist Student for bringing this to my attention yesterday. This is 12 minutes of lecture from creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson to RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts), accompanied with animated drawings on a white board. The examples nevertheless are quite American: RSA Animate: Changing Education Paradigms

I couldn’t have said it better, but I can say a bit in support of his conclusions.

Back when my kids were in public schools, in a part of the country where we had quite good ones, I wrote a piece about the unusually effective multi-age classrooms they were in at the local elementary school (this was first and second grades, before they started attending a gifted magnet school, and long before I considered homeschooling). The multi-age classrooms contained abilities ranging from Down’s Syndrome first graders to gifted second graders, in a classroom of about 22, with one teacher and usually also one aide specifically to help the special ed students. It was understood that everyone was at different levels in different subjects, and those who understood something could help those who didn’t understand it yet.

The two main teachers who did this were marvelous in their own right. They were trying to teach other classroom teachers to do what they did, but I think results of that were not as promising as originally hoped. Nevertheless, what these teachers did worked well. They had clipboards they carried around with them, and they marked various things they observed about each child. They answered questions and guided and directed. Much of the day looked chaotic, with children placing themselves around the room at scattered desks or, more likely, on colorful floor mats.

Sometimes the class did things together, like going through daily routines related to calendars and weather, and counting by fives or sevens, or whatever the number was that day. And they read stories aloud together as well. Usually the whole class was on the same subject at a given time of the day (math, or writing). I used to help with writing lab, a segment of the morning twice a week when parent volunteers went student to student to answer questions about spelling and punctuation and help kids say what they wanted in their project of the day. Some would need almost no help, but did enjoy having someone read what they wrote. Some would need to tell an adult what they wanted to say, and then trace over it. When they completed writing a “book,” they would “publish” it by binding it and reading it with any other students that recently finished. (My son Economic Sphere’s first such project was a wordless picture book, so, yes, I did know he thought out of the box from very early on.)

At parent/teacher meetings, these teachers would show a portfolio of the student’s work. What was important was not how they measured against some national mean, but how they measured against where they had been the last time parent and teacher met. Was there progress? Was there a pattern in the types of errors in math or spelling? Were there things the parent could do at home? And how was the student doing socially, etc.?

Discipline was rarely a problem. One of the most effective “severe” methods of discipline was separation from the class. The student acting up could sit at his desk while the class had story time or something else together. Once the problem student let the aide know he was ready to control himself so he wouldn’t bother the other students, he was allowed to rejoin them. (I can’t tell you how different this was from the school we got after our move, just before homeschooling. At least I can’t tell you today. Maybe sometime.)

So, as I was writing about this experimental classroom, the conclusion was that, as much as possible, these multi-age classrooms were designed to resemble learning in a family. [Doesn’t everything civilization-building grow from roots in the family?] Ages and abilities differ. There’s a lot of independent learning, as well as fun together time. There’s appropriate discipline, but not a lot needed once there’s an understanding of expectations and plenty of interesting things happening.

Having this experience was an advantage to me once we started homeschooling. I didn’t try to reproduce a factory classroom in my home; I tried to make home a place where we enjoyed learning things together. It was often a messy and chaotic business, but it was a fun ride.

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