What Did You Learn At School?

I have been listening to a great presentation from Paul Ginnis about learning. He began with these words from Albert Einstein and  defined insanity as – “Doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result.” How often have we all been guilty of this? We know certain things don’t work but we do them again and again because that’s the way we’ve always done them. Have a look at this short series of photos to see what can happen when we just keep doing the same thing.

Unfortunately the same is true of our education system. Our present way of schooling was created in a different age to tackle a different set of problems, but here we are today doing the same old things. Have a think about some of these questions:

  • Why do we still start school at 9.00am finish about 3.15pm, have a mid-morning playtime and stop for lunch for about an hour at 12.00pm? This is exactly how it was when I started school in the mid 1950’s.
  • Why do children sit a desks, put their hand up to answer questions and all face the front of the classroom?
  • Why is there ‘a front’ to a classroom and why is it that this is usually where the teacher stands?
  • Why do we have school holidays when we do?
  • Why do so many children sit in the same place all day, every day for a whole school year? Often teaching is designed to fit in with the furniture. Outside of school learning is quite often much more mobile.
  • Why do we teach children in classes where they are all the same age?
  • Why do young children ask lots of questions when they first start school and much fewer as they get older?
  • Why are 5 year-olds in school much more independent than 10 year-olds?
  • How much learning actually happens in school?
  • How much learning has taken place before children even start school? How did that happen?

One of the issues faced by schools is that there has been a tendency over recent years to measure everything. The problem is that some of the most useful skills that are needed can not be easily measured. One of the consequences of the introduction of school inspections has been an over emphasis on the measuring of the quality of teaching. This is because it is easier to go into a classroom with a prepared set of criteria and measure an individuals performance. What we should really be concentrating on is not the teaching but the learning – but measuring learning is much more difficult.

One of the key messages to come from this presentation is the idea that good teaching does not necessarily mean that good learning will follow. We all learn in different ways. Just because someone tells you something does not mean that you will then learn from that. The best learning takes place when the subject matter is deemed to be relevant, when it is made fun and interesting, when we are challenged to think differently and when we are given time to reflect on these learning experiences. Even then it will be different for each person – the idea that 30 children in a class will all learn the same thing at the same time is a nonsense. We learn best when we are given opportunities to discuss our learning experiences, ask more questions, listen to other people’s thought and ideas. This reflection is what allows the learning to become embedded. Some thoughts to finish with:

  • What have you learnt recently?
  • How did it happen?
  • Who was the teacher?
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4 Responses to What Did You Learn At School?

  1. SethPopowich says:

    As an instructor for many years at our Emergency Services College, I know that true teaching talent reveals itself when the teacher struggles to engage students in the process, when he refuses to give up until he finds a way to bring about understanding and competence in the student. The sad thing is, teachers in our public schools have been stripped of their authority in the classrooms, which hinders them in their ability to properly teach and maintain control over the class/kids. Kids know it, and they use this to their advantage. Heck, some teachers are even afraid to be in the classrooms because gawd forbid should a teacher have to address a kid’s inappropriate behavior while in class for the fear of gawd that the kid will cry ‘abuse’ … or worse. Some parents (not all) refuse to accept responsibility for their kids’ actions, and defend them to the end. Schools are so afraid of being sued that they feel powerless to do anything about these kids that disrupt the learning/teaching for all the other kids. It is just sad. When I was a kid, if your teacher said you did something wrong, your parents automatically believed them, and you didn’t even get a chance to defend yourself, because you were a child. These days it becomes “He said, she said” and the kid gets believed over the adult.

    • SethPopowich says:

      If there is one thing that I have learned, it’s that there is plenty of learning to be done outside the classroom walls as well. Although school provides us with the knowledge, tools and direction we need to excel in life in our younger years… the lessons we learn outside the classroom are equally if not more important than the ones we learn inside. I can’t emphasize this enough. We learn how to live life, the most important lesson of all besides learning from our mistakes… which I myself have not yet mastered. 🙂

    • Mike says:

      Apparently only 15% of learning happens in a school. When I was a head teacher I would always challenge my staff to try and find out what was happening with the 85% that was taking place out of school!

    • Mike says:

      I couldn’t agree more Seth.
      The greatest shame is that the children who are disruptive in a school are not only not learning themselves but also preventing others, who want to learn, from being able to.
      As gor parents not accepting responsibility …… probably best that you don’t get me started on that one. As a child, if I ever got into trouble at school, the last person I wanted to find out was my dad! Whenever he did he would accept that the school must have had good reason for punishing me (and that view was never up for discussion) and would also feel justified in punishing me again for getting into trouble at school. I soon learned!

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