Sunday, July 30, 2017

5 Ways To Make School Boring

A child in a family I know started school for the first time this year. She was excited and couldn't wait to get there. Just months later, she looks forward to weekends and holidays. Recently, when she came home and was asked what sort of day she had, she hesitated and pondered the question and then replied:

"I think school is more about working than learning".

This 5-year-old arrived at school able to read, count and add up, and with a extensive general knowledge and a highly creative and inquisitive mind. How would you turn a child like this off school?

Step 1 - Make her do all of the same things she could already do before she arrived at school. Try to teach her to count to 10, and introduce the alphabet and sounds, even though she was able to count well beyond 100, had knowledge of the alphabet and sound symbol relationships, could spell many words, and was reading at a 4th grade level.

Step 2 - During library visits, insist she only borrows simple picture books, even though she was reading chapter books at home. Then watch go home her despondently without a book at all.

Step 3 - Reduce the activities that invite her to imagine, explore her world and to find out. Instead, replace these with drill and repetition of things she knew before she came to school.

Step 4 - Assume when she spends lots of time talking to other children in class, that she is distracted, rather than simply being bored.

Step 5 - Insist that she follow the same curriculum, and cope with the same methods as other children in the room who have not yet learned to read, write, spell and add up.

This little girl when asked by her family to talk about the best things to happen each day at school, would usually start with recess and lunch, because at these times she could play creatively with her friends.

Her innocent comment about school being more about 'working' than 'learning' is quite insightful. But at the same time, it is VERY sad, because it shows how little school was stimulating and challenging her. As teachers, we need to reflect on this story and ask ourselves regularly three questions about our methods, curriculum and general pedagogy:

1. How often do I do I implement activities designed to fill up lots of time, rather than offering varied possibilities for learning?
2. Do I take into consideration the varied abilities of my students, or simply teach to the 'middle'?
3. Am I aware of the varied abilities of my students and do I plan to meet their varied needs?

As a former teacher myself, including a number of year teaching in a sole charge school with 31 children in seven grades (Kindergarten to Grade 6), I understand the daily challenges as a teacher. But it is possible to plan activities for varied abilities in the same classroom, and to shift our focus from just 'working' to 'learning'.

Left: The One-teacher school where I taught

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