A Personal Story about Learning Swimming

I had a new swimming teacher last night. For several months now I’ve been attending weekly swimming lessons for improvers and I’m making slow progress. Still, I go every week because after the half-hour lesson I always feel like I’ve had a good workout.

Although it’s a group lesson, last term only one other person was in my class and this term I’m on my own. So I really get individual tuition. Most weeks the format is the same.

The teacher asks me to begin with the back crawl. This is of little interest to me because I want to improve my front crawl and I can already do the inverted breast stroke. Anyway I go along with working on the back crawl in the hope that it will eventually improve my front crawl. Each week the teacher tells me that I need to “point my toes” more. I point them as much as I can. She tells me to do it more. I try and point them even more. And the cycle continues. Continue reading

Why I Respond in the Same Way to Correct and Incorrect Answers

I posed the subtraction question 92 minus 18 for a class to calculate. One child answered 74. Another said 86. My response to both children was the same: “How did you get that answer?”

I did not indicate to one child that the answer was correct and to the other that it was incorrect. I wanted each child, and their classmates, to figure out for themselves if either answer made sense or not.

I want the children to become sense-makers who are willing to interrogate their own ideas. I want them to rely on logic when figuring out if an answer is right or wrong and not depend on the external affirmation or disaffirmation of a teacher. Continue reading

Learning Honesty

Sometimes unpleasant things happen in class.

Money is stolen from your desk. Someone splashes paint on your clothes when you’re not looking. Graffiti appears on a classroom wall or desk.

You have suspicions about who committed the offence. Coercing a confession from a suspect won’t teach honesty; it might breed resentment.

Why not give space for a child to admit the misdemeanour so that they don’t lose face in front of peers? Wait for an admission until the child is ready.

Even if no one owns up, someone gets to experience the heavy weight of being dishonest.

We can only learn to be honest when we have room to be dishonest.

Sunday Interview Highlight – Kathleen Lynch

Professor Kathleen Lynch is the Chair of Equality Studies at UCD. She has a particular interest in education and in October 2015 she was invited to give a keynote address to the Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South (SCoTENS). I met up with her after her presentation and in one part of our conversation I mentioned having heard her speak before about the language we use to describe children in schools. I asked her if she could say something about that. Continue reading

Everyone Teaches (just not in school settings)

In Berlin early on a Sunday morning, with few cars on the streets, local people will wait at a red pedestrian crossing light until it changes to green. In Dublin, for many pedestrians a red light serves merely as a signal to pause briefly before crossing if no traffic is in sight. Why are Berliners so law abiding?

A tour guide explained that it is because they want to show good example to children. Adult pedestrians could flout red lights if no traffic is about, but they know that if they do, young children may begin to do so too, and not having the road experience of adults, such actions are more likely to be detrimental to children. Continue reading

Teaching is More than Facilitation

The word “facilitator” is related to the word “facile” which means “easy” or “to make something easy.” Making something complicated easier for someone else to understand is part of what a teacher does.

However, in our society the term facilitator has other meanings, many of them linked to the business world or to a discussion conducted by a chat show host. Often the idea of facilitation is linked to someone who is neutral about content and someone whose role is to bring about consensus in a group or to get everyone present to contribute. Continue reading

Spellings 3: Teaching Rather than Testing Spellings

Some people look on spelling as a lower order skill and one whose importance is diminishing with the use of spell-checking software. However, spelling well helps you make a good impression when you write. As well as that, even though reading doesn’t necessarily help improve spellings, proficiency at spellings can help reading.

The teaching of spellings can be approached in several ways:

• Every child does not have to learn the same spellings. Children’s free writing can highlight common words that the child cannot yet spell correctly. When one teacher, Brendan Culligan, reads children’s writing, he writes out the correct spellings of some of the misspelt common words at the end of the work and allows children to choose a subset of those spellings to learn. Continue reading

Spellings 2: Children’s Error Patterns in Spellings

In tests written spellings are usually marked simply as being right or wrong. Often children correct their own tests or those of their classmates.

However, valuable information is missed when the patterns of errors are not looked at. By looking at the errors made, a teacher can analyse what underlying knowledge children are using to spell words. Continue reading

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