Wednesday, February 23, 2011

you mean we're not all gonna sit around and sing about rainbows?

I went to visit a school today. I think I might have mentioned it- it's a primary school in the area, a very small primary school, with a focus on 'democratic education', and learning through doing, the stuff I'm super interested in.
So it's a funny thing because I had emailed the Principal telling her a bit about me and why I wanted to come volunteer one day a week, and she said: sure thing! Come in on Wednesday and meet the teachers!...
And that was it.
No sort of informal interview, making sure I'm not a psycho, checking why I was coming (Ok, I'd said this in the email, but it's easy to lie through email), y'know.. making sure I fit.
So I get there and their receptionist shows me around into their classrooms and tells me about the school. Looks nice, only about 10 kids in each class, none wearing uniforms (US readers: It's very uncommon in Australia for schools to not have a uniform. (I wanted to write Unicorn just then. D'oh). My school didn'y, but we were known as the 'pot smoking hippie school'. Even cruddy public-funded public schools will have some kind of cruddy wannabe uniform, but there you go), one class was having a meeting. This is where the school starts to go a little off track for me. The receptionist shuffles me outside the classroom, after we'd observed some of the kids just starting school having a meeting with those who were there last year.
"Every morning they have a meeting. It's basically a glorified show and tell," she says, with a smile.
I force a smile. Background: I did a lot of reading of Alfie Kohn's work regarding democratic classrooms last year, and two things he said were: Meetings are super important, and great ways for kids to make decisions about their life at school. They could bring up issues relating to school chores, homework, their projects, whatever. Then everyone could discuss and come to conclusions, decisions could be made, and everyone could be happy and bathing in rainbows. The second thing he said was that show and tells are bad. As in: It's basically just showing off how awesome you are, and trying to out-awesome your peers. I remember this, you want to bring in something more cool than anyone else, and somebody else always had something cooler, damnit. Which doesn't make for a harmonious environment.
Y'know, I'm gonna put this below a cut cos if you're not interested in education, you probably don't wanna be spammed with all this.

So here was this lady telling me that they had meetings where they shared stories about the weekend. Or whatever. Glorified show and tells.
And then we wandered around a bit more, and she told me how they organize their timetabling themselves (the students) with sheets and work programs and priorities and so on... and if they don't finish something from one sheet (ie: a week's worth), then it's ok, that just becomes a priority for next week... then, if they don't finish it the next week, they have to stay in at break.
"It's a natural consequence of not doing the work!" She says, as if it were perfectly reasonable. Which I suppose it is.
And here I can hear Nic going:
But what's the point in giving them deadlines if nothing happens when they don't reach them!? Or How will they learn to do their work on time if they don't have some consequence for not finishing the work!?"
Fine, valid points.
But maybe here's a better place to start:
Ask the kid why it hasn't been done after 2 weeks. Is it too hard? Ok, maybe we'll do something a bit easier for now and work up to it.
Maybe they're not interested in it. Is that a reflection on the activity you've chosen? On the student? On the way you've presented that topic? As in, could it be explained differently? Can you find an alternative way to tackle that same thing? And look, they probably do ask, and they probably do try and figure it out, and maybe some of them even give individualised programs to the kids (I didn't see it, not specifically, though what I did see was very open and able to be tailored to abilities. One task for example was "writing workshop", where they just had to write something, then edit it, then publish it. Good for those who love writing, good for those who aren't so good. A little tricky for those with no ideas, but that's where we're here to help).
So, from those two perspectives, the school didn't live entirely up to my expectations. That being said, I think I'll enjoy going there once a week. They do horse-riding as a sport on wednesday afternoon. On little Shetland Ponies!! That just rocks my world.

My gorgeous pony Cocoa. I had him for as long as I could remember, and he lived until he was about 24. When I was an emo teenager, I would go into the paddock and lay on his back and breathe into his mane. He was so naughty, and had the softest little muzzle, and cute little ears. These ponies have a special place in my heart!!

Another one, for good measure.

And the kids I was with today seemed really happy to ask me for help right off the bat. And I find it easier to get them to give me answers, rather than me giving them the answers they want because they're too lazy to think, which is a problem I found I had with the year 9 kids a lot.
Now I need to go teach myself about Aspergers, because there was a boy in the 3/4 class today who has it, and he didn't act at all like I thought he 'should', which I think is because my knowledge is severely lacking, and maybe I don't know what it is as well as I should.

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