Author Archives: essdee

Spellings 1: The Problem with Spelling Tests

Although spellings take up time each week in most classrooms, the time spent testing spellings often exceeds the time spent teaching them.

Spelling tests are a weekly ritual in many classrooms around the country. I administered them for years as a teacher and as a child in primary school I did one each week. So important were spelling tests to one of my teachers that she used to display our weekly spelling scores on the classroom wall, and the coveted achievement of a full score was highlighted in red pen.

Spelling tests are so ingrained in the culture of schools that few question them; parents expect them and if you decide not to observe the ritual, you may have to explain why. Continue reading

Peer Pressure Affects Teachers Too

Most people who smoke know that smoking is bad for them. Yet the habit persists. Most cyclists know that helmets help prevent head injuries. Yet many cyclists don’t wear them.

It’s tempting to think we always act in accordance with our beliefs. But we don’t. Continue reading

Sunday Interview Highlight – Andy Burke

Andy Burke is known to thousands of teachers throughout Ireland and further afield through his work in St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra (now part of Dublin City University) and overseas for organisations such as the World Bank. His passion and enthusiasm for education are infectious.

After joining and later leaving a religious order, Andy worked as an electrician in Dublin and as a carpenter in Boston before dedicating himself professionally to education. Throughout his academic career in teacher education, he was preoccupied by the question about what type of work teaching is and whether it was a trade or a profession.  .

In this part of the interview I asked Andy if he now believes that teaching is a trade or a profession. Continue reading

Classroom Layout Matters

How to set up the classroom is one of the many decisions a teacher needs to take at least once a year. An overarching goal is to create in the classroom a space that is welcoming, safe, inclusive and educational for the people who will work together there throughout the school year.

Although different classroom configurations suit different activities (individual work, interactive work, pair-work and group work, for example), different priorities (maximising time spent on task, holding frequent whole-class discussions, minimising disruptive behaviour, promoting inclusion for example), and different curriculum subjects, in most classrooms it would be impractical and time-wasting to change the layout on an ongoing basis. Instead most teachers try to use one predominant layout with occasional changes for particular activities.

My ideal classroom layout is in a U-shape. Every child can see one another’s face which is good for class discussions. I can see every child and move around to check their work quickly if necessary. I can also move quickly towards any area where disruption is brewing and try and pre-empt it before time is wasted. The space in the centre of the U can be used if I want the children to sit down away from their seats to listen to me telling a story, for example. It’s relatively easy for children to work in groups of 2-3 in this configuration but not so good for having them work in larger groups.

Unfortunately, most classrooms are too small to accommodate such a layout. The desks may be too big or there may be too many children in the room. So alternative options need to be explored. Continue reading

Klingon 2: Consequences of Teaching Klingon to Every Student

If the language Klingon were to be taught in every school, some consequences would follow that would need to be addressed at a policy or practice level.

Most teachers may not currently be fluent in the language or they may need to have their knowledge of the language refreshed. That would require systematic professional development for teachers in Klingon. Teacher education programmes would need to ensure that graduates were sufficiently fluent in the language for it to be taught well.

Not only would teachers need to be competent in Klingon, they would need to be persuaded of the importance of helping children become fluent in the language at an age-appropriate level as early as possible. Continue reading

Klingon 1: Reasons to Teach Klingon to Every Student

Teachers frequently complain about curriculum overload. That doesn’t stop politicians and others proposing new curriculum subjects or topics. So on this day, which marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first broadcast of Star Trek, join me in a thought experiment about adding to the curriculum a subject that few have considered.

Star Trek films are hugely popular and the thirteenth film in the series was released earlier in 2016. Klingon is the language spoken by Klingons in the Star Trek film series. A case can be made for teaching Klingon to every student in our primary and post-primary schools. Continue reading

Introducing Yourself to Parents

As the school year begins it’s easy to think you’re working alone with your class with exclusive responsibility for what the children will learn this year. But their education is influenced by many parties.

Meeting with parents and guardians as a group early in the school year serves several purposes. You can introduce yourself to them, respond to questions parents and guardians have, find out about talents and skills they are willing to share with the class, and outline different ways parents and guardians can make contact during the year (via notes, e-mails, phone, text, or in person) with information or a concern about their child.

The meeting I’m describing differs from the parent-teacher meeting about individual children which is a feature in all schools. Some teachers and schools offer an additional introductory group meeting to parents at the start of the year.
Continue reading

Expertise in Plumbing and in Teaching

Last weekend I sent the following text message to a plumber who has done work for me in the past.

“Am having a spot of bother with the oil boiler today. It starts off and continues as if about to ignite but then does not ignite. By any chance could you come around tomorrow to take a look at it?”

Later in the day the plumber phoned me and asked me if I was near the boiler. I was. “Have you a flat screwdriver?” I had. “Get a damp cloth.” And he proceeded to tell me what to do. It took me less than five minutes to solve the problem following his directons.

He could as easily have called out and charged me a callout fee to fix the boiler and I’d have been no wiser. Even if he would have ethical concerns about doing so, he may have been able to justify to himself the need for a callout on the grounds that I might make things worse with the boiler, his business was quiet, he was in the area anyway or whatever.

But he decided not to make an unnecessary journey himself and decided not to put any extra expense on me. Immediately he became more trustworthy to me; I’m more likely to trust his advice on other plumbing matters in the future. Continue reading

Keeping Some Kind of Record

A teacher’s work is to bring about change in others. It’s often invisible.

Wouldn’t it be good to keep in one volume a curated record of children’s creative work done in class over the course of a school year?

It could be held in digital or hard-copy form or a combination of both and could include samples of stories written, poems composed, problems solved, sketches drawn, photographs of models made, links to videos of performances, excerpts from projects completed and so on.

Any child’s work could be included in the class record on the recommendation of the teacher or the child’s classmates.

Imagine if a teacher compiled one such volume for each year of their teaching career.

Sunday Interview Highlight – Mary Roche

Each week from October to June I present a weekly radio programme/podcast where I interview people from Ireland and abroad who have interesting perspectives on teaching, learning and education more generally. Over the coming weeks in the “Sunday Interview Highlight” blog posts I am going to transcribe short extracts from a selection of the interviews to give you a taste of the interviewees’ views on some aspects of education.

For the month of September, before the new season begins, I’m taking extracts from podcasts that were uploaded and broadcast in 2015-2016. Below the transcribed text is a link to the podcast where you can listen to the full interview in context.

This week I have transcribed an excerpt from my interview with Mary Roche, author of Developing Children’s Critical Thinking through Picturebooks: A Guide for primary and early years students and teachers. In the interview Mary described how in promoting critical thinking among children she was influenced by Philomena Donnelly’s work on philosophy for children. I asked her how she integrated philosophy for children into her teaching given the fact that philosophy is not a subject on the curriculum. Continue reading