Monday, 2 November 2009

Experiential learning

There's that well-known saying that you remember 10% of what you hear, 30 % (or so!) of what you see but 90% of what you do. So that got me to thinking. What DO I actually remember from my primary education. By that I mean in the actual lessons. (There's a whole heap of stuff I remember about being mischievous and getting into trouble but that would take too much time to report!!!)

OK My first ever class I remember I copied Allison Charman because I didn't understand what I was meant to do and the teacher made us both do it all again. This was somewhat tough on poor Allison. It was something to do with the alphabet but the lasting impression was being caught for copying. I guess that doesn't count as a meaningful learning experience.

The second class. I remember singing. The class next door came in and sat on our desks and we sang. I mostly remember our jokes about sniffing the table after the other class had left and making jokes about their smelly bottoms. I don't remember the songs. Again - not the learning that was intended.

In the next class my only slight learning memory was putting up my hand to say I could tie Colin Bailey's shoelaces for him because I thought I had worked out how to do them. But I hadn't. Oh and the teacher in that class used to pull down the boy's trousers and smack their bare bottoms. How was I meant to learn anything with that going on?

The following year we grew mustard and cress but because I was naughty the teacher said I couldn't and took mine away from me. However, the rest of the class thought this was unfair and clubbed together to muster up some blotting paper and some seeds for me. That was a great lesson in friendship and team work but the teacher hadn't anticipated that as a learning objective.

A year older and the only memory was the teacher shouting at me for 'wishing it was January because that's when I move house and get my own bedroom.' She screamed (while the rest of the class looked on in silence), 'Just think what you are wishing away...Christmas, the school play, and presents. Why would you wish all that away? Silly child.' She had a point but it was a little lost on me; I had a huge wound to lick.

I was about ten years old and my newly qualified teacher spiced up the one lesson of hers that I remember. She presented the class with an empty tin and asked one person stand at the front of the class, hold it and imagine something inside it. The rest of the class had to guess what was in it by asking questions. The teacher jotted down many of the things we all said in carrying out the task, onto the board. That bit grabbed my attention and I was fully engaged until we had to add speech marks to the text she had written in the appropriate place.

The next teacher's reputation was 'fierce'. I think ''dull' could have also been an apt adjective but children rarely see past the fear when it's real. I remember nothing of her lessons. However, the teacher in the next class took us for science and delivered a 'carousel' of science experiments - six experiments for groups of five to rotate around over the course of six weeks. Of course we all knew every detail of every experiment by the end of the first lesson. We also knew which one was most interesting: a machine that spun a multi-coloured disc around to prove that all the colours added together made white. I still know that.

The last year of primary school did deliver a teacher with some imagination. I remember a few lessons. A debate about the most important word in the English language which turned out to be 'why'. I didn't like that she had a pre-prepared answer. I thought she really believed we could find the answer together...learning alongside each other.

I also remember her letting me set the class a puzzle. It was one I had found in a book. You had to guess what was odd about the paragraph that I painstakingly wrote on the board. The answer was it contained not a single letter 'e' - the most common letter in the English language. I remember this activity because I lapped up haivng the power of knowledge nobody else had! Something I haven't had since!!! Now that couldn't really be described as a teacher impactly directly on my learning.

I remember the poem 'Twas brillig and the slythy toathes, did gyre and gimble in the wabe.. What a great poem. We could have drawn and labelled a picture for the poem, we could have made our own nonsense poem...but no, we just learnt it by rote. Still I remembered it!

And a school trip to Bath with a treasure hunt-that was the pinnacle of my primary school existence. My imagination, my rising to a challenge, the thrill of doing something unusual, walking around bath in groups without adult supervision...I was captivated. As good as it week in 1980.

With that as my list, it really does beg an answer to what the point of education is. Is lifelong learning about building upon a well laid foundation of early education? If so, I think I am stuffed!

1 comment:

  1. Learning not to copy. Gee I wish someone would teach modern students that.


I LOVE comments......