Over the years, I have used the children’s feedback to help determine the types of activities that interest them the most and provide the best learning opportunities. I have had to find a way to make this time valuable for the students but also sustainable and manageable – from a teacher’s perspective. We’ve had to come up with some effective rules around engagement, sharing and tidying up. These rules are designed to allow the children to be self managing. Fortunately, most students achieve this goal with ease. If students aren’t there yet, they are on the way.
However, despite the availability of these popular activities, it is not uncommon to see students choosing to do independent ‘academic’ tasks instead. The child in the photo, was deeply engrossed in a reading task – identifying and matching blends. I have also documented previously how children use the time to write independently; letters to parents declaring their love, lists of birthday party invitees – all meaningful learning – and self-driven. This is a critical observation from a teacher’s point of view. It contradicts the view that children need to be coerced to learn; that they will always take the path of least resistance. They will only just want to play – (and said as if ‘play’ was a bad thing).
The ‘sweet spot’ in effective teaching is when students become their own teachers. That this child deliberately and independently chose to do this reading activity, indicates to me that this student wants to be a better reader and takes reading seriously. But nor was it an accident that this child chose this activity. From trial and error, over many years, I have learned what activities 5 year olds are interested in and/or how to get them interested. It’s a dynamic process and it doesn’t come about by accident.
The ‘sweet spot’ in effective teaching is also when teachers are reflecting on the impact of their teaching. My teaching day is full of deliberate acts of teaching – whether that be through direct teacher instruction or providing self-directed learning activities. Increasingly, I am more and more comfortable with the latter.
And the thing is, for the first time in my teaching career, I can identify the deliberate acts of teaching that are having a positive impact on the students’ learning. The learning has become visible. No longer are the children simply learning in spite of me, or despite of me. I now do the things that work. I’ve stopped doing things that don’t work. I now do things because they achieve the desired results. I am a problem solver.
I know, those are bold statements. But please, trust me on that.
Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.