Author Archives: essdee

Learning With and About Sleep

As you know, last weekend we put back our clocks. This is part of the change from daylight savings time when we increase the amount of light available in the morning when children are going to school and adults are going to work. Consequently we lose some light in the evening time because it gets dark earlier.

But did you know that when the clocks were put back on Sunday, the number of people who had heart attacks fell compared to any other day? And so did the rate of traffic accidents. The opposite happens in March. Now, this might be surprising, but there’s a good explanation for it. Continue reading

Maths being Difficult is Not the Full Story

Last weekend, I had the privilege to attend a wonderful conference in Dublin City University called Mathematics Education in Ireland. At the conference, lots of people were complaining about how the media encourages people to see mathematics as difficult. They thought it would be better if people with influence spoke and wrote more positively about maths.

One of the claims made at the conference was that even preschool children are picking up the idea that maths is difficult. Well, I agree that maths is difficult for many people. The problem is that that statement is incomplete. Continue reading

The Value of International Test Results

The positive results Irish students achieved in the recently published TIMMS and PISA results received relatively low levels of discussion in Irish media. The results appear to vindicate the general direction of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy. However, whether international comparative test results are good or bad, it is important to reflect on the role such tests play in our knowledge of a country and its schools. Continue reading

Teaching Number Facts and Tables

Every child leaving primary school needs to know their number facts at least up to 10 + 10, 20 – 10, 10 x 10, and 100 ÷ 10. This is often done by asking children to learn off tables such as
7 + 0 = 7
7 + 1 = 8
7 + 2 = 9
7 + 3 = 10
7 + 4 = 11 and so on.

Learning off number facts in such tables works well for some children, but not for all. Stanislas Dehaene, author of The Number sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics compares excerpts from addition and multiplication tables to the following groups of sentences to show how similar some of the tables can sound and how difficult they can be to learn off.

“Charlie David lives on George Avenue
Charlie George lives on Albert Zoe Avenue
George Ernie lives on Albert Bruno Avenue”
“Charlie David works on Albert Bruno Avenue
Charlie George works on Bruno Albert Avenue
George Ernie works on Charlie Ernie Avenue.” Continue reading

Where Do Teachers Learn about Teaching?

Teaching differs from other jobs. What other career have you observed day-in-day-out for 13 or more years before you embark on it? Most of us are lucky enough to observe only hours of the work of a doctor, a dentist or a mechanic. Unless we have a family member in the job, we’ve probably only seen a couple of days or weeks of the work of a nurse, a shopkeeper or a hairdresser. But most of us have observed teaching for several hours daily for years on end.

Because we’re so familiar with teaching, it looks easy. It doesn’t have the mystique or glamour of jobs such as software designer, barrister, entrepreneur, newspaper editor, engineer or chef. But in looking easy, teaching is deceptive. It is a complex and difficult job to execute well. As David Labraee says, in learning to teach we have to contend with learning the complexity of something that looks easy. We also have to be careful about who we learn from because many people who express opinions on teaching know little about the work. Continue reading

Class Size and Visions of Teaching

Patients waiting on hospital trolleys. Long waiting lists for social and affordable housing. Services and systems often struggle to match resources with what people need.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation has justifiably been a consistent advocate for smaller class sizes in primary schools for many years. So strong and focused have they been in their advocacy that one former ministerial advisor describes them as “the best lobbyists in the business.” Continue reading

In Praise of Praise in Teaching

A few words of targeted praise can encourage children to keep going when they’re struggling to achieve or they feel like giving up.

Limitations of Praise in Teaching

Many teachers tend to praise children a lot. Expressions like “well done,” “nice work,” or “good girl/boy” fall easily from our lips when a child gives a right answer, completes a task well, or contributes a constructive comment.

In time some children may come to rely on the comments for affirmation or to know they have done something well, even if they’re not sure what it is. The comments promote reliance on the teacher rather than self-reliance. Children may be disappointed with a subsequent teacher or in life more generally if every effort they make is not responded to positively. Continue reading

Sunday Interview Highlight – Conor Galvin

Dr. Conor Galvin is an assistant professor in the School of Education in University College Dublin with vast experience of technology in education.  I met up with him at the 2016 annual conference of the Computers in Education Society of Ireland. I asked him if he saw any downside to the increasing use of technology in education or in society more generally. Continue reading

Teacher Film Review – Être et Avoir

In a recent blog post I mentioned films about teachers and specifically Être et Avoir. For today’s blog entry, I am posting a review of that film.

Être et Avoir
(France, 2002; English subtitles)
Directed by Nicolas Philibert

This documentary follows a teacher and the children he teaches in a single classroom from the depths of winter until the end of a school year. Set in a farming community, we see the changing seasons through the work on the farm. Coming near retirement, the teacher is wise if not dynamic. What we see of his teaching is authoritative – several dictations for the older children; the younger children work on making their letters and on learning to read and form sentences with new words. Continue reading