Category Archives: Teaching

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

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.

Learning can be fun without being sugar-coated

Making learning fun is often associated with playing educational games or having children compete with one another for prizes. Such fun can thrill without nourishing.

But learning is also fun when children are given time and space to think, when they can express their ideas and have them respected, and when their contributions – even their mistakes – are used to advance their own learning and the learning of others.

The intrinsic motivation of the second type of fun contributes to a love of learning that may endure.

Unhappy in Teaching

Most of us have bad days at work now and then: days when we’re feeling grumpy, days we’re under pressure because of an enormous workload, or days when nothing seems to go right.

But on occasion unhappiness at work may last for longer than a day. Many reasons or a combination of reasons may contribute to a sense of unhappiness in teaching. One possible cause may be disruptive behaviour by children in the class. Or we may have taken on too much work, in school or outside school, in a given year. We may perceive that we’re no good at teaching. We may have been unsuccessful in applying for a permanent job or for promotion. We may be experiencing tension with one or more colleagues. We may dislike the work of teaching, see it as lacking challenge or being monotonous, and see no way out. The conditions under which we work may have deteriorated. Or our professional unhappiness may have spilt over from personal unhappiness due to illness, relationship difficulties, financial problems, bereavement and so on. 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.

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

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