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Studying Extracts 01-04

Studying is about questioning, clarifying and ultimately understanding concepts, issues or ideas. In this study, we aim at understanding the process involved in questioning and clarifying ideas. Being practitioners or researchers or just someone interested in the education process, we have our own biases and theories about education. Here, we examine them carefully and explore the possibility of accommodating other viewpoints. The debate will perhaps help us understand the complexity of the issue, if not share ways of solving them.

We begin with the first set of extracts. The topic points to factors, which in some ways “close” classroom transactions, hindering, or even denying opportunities for some natural outcomes of classrooms. We have pointed to some of these outcomes. Some more would become apparent as we continue the debate.

Studying Extract 01
From The Open Classroom - A Practical Guide to a New Way of Teaching by Herbert R. Kohl
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Examining the Extract
Herbert Kohl begins with a serious allegation.

The authoritarian environment of the school I taught at encouraged a collusive atmosphere in which everyone except the students pretended that the school was functioning smoothly and effectively and that the teachers were “doing a good job.” It was not proper to talk about troubles or admit failures.

Collusive means, acting in secret to achieve a fraudulent, illegal, or deceitful goal.

What according to him is the deceitful goal being pursued?

Not providing education to its pupils.

Then there is the allegation of pretending. Everybody except students believe that the school is functioning smoothly and teachers are doing a good job.

Further on in the extract, we find some reasons why the school did not deliver. A strong plea is made for re-looking at control.

Control here encompasses
1. Control over students – maintaining order in the classrooms and demanding that students do what they are told.
2. Control over teachers – implied in the rigidity of the school processes: timetable, syllabi, textbooks, other teacher duties.

And then he goes on to make a list of all things that are wrong with the school.
1. They do not serve the interests of adults, and they do not serve the interests of young people.
2. They teach “objective” knowledge and its corollary, obedience to authority.
3. They teach avoidance of conflict and obeisance to tradition in the guise of history.
4. They teach equality and democracy while castrating students and controlling teachers.
5. Most of all they teach people to be silent about what they think and feel,
6. And worst of all, they teach people to pretend that they are saying what they think and feel.

He recommends breaking away from all this. The warning is that breaking away is not easy. The silver lining is that making such an escape is a step toward beginning again and becoming the teachers we never knew we could be. Helped by his senior colleague to realize that his problems had nothing to do with his students but everything to do with himself and the pathology of his classroom, Kohl took his first step towards open classrooms in which the domination of the teacher does not exist.

Examining Ourselves
The starting point is that we question the truth in extract 01. Is it likely that our school is very different from his and hence his conclusions do not apply to us? Let us compare the two situations.

Herbert Kohl’s situation: (from his book 36 children. Download the book) Students belong to class 6

1. Half the class had barely mastered multiplication, and only one child was actually ready for sixth-grade arithmetic.
2. More than half the class read on fourth-grade level and only five or six children were able to read through a sixth-grade book.

Scores in Reading: 3.1, 3.4, 2.0, 4.2, 3.1
Scores in IQ: 70, 75, 81, 78 ...

(Explanation: If students read up to their grade level (it is 6 in this case), then they are, supposed to have a score in the sixes; six point zero, six point one, and so forth. For children with average intelligence the IQ should be at least one hundred.) Notice that his students read at grade 2 and above but nowhere near 6. The IQs were less than 100.

If his school was functioning smoothly – it was doing its job and delivering what it promised, surely the scores should have been better. Kohl has reported performance in reading and IQ. It is perhaps likely that he would have encountered similar problems in arithmetic or any other subject.

What makes us believe our school is functioning smoothly? There is order, everything works, things happen according to the timetable, teachers go to class, children become silent, obey orders, perform tasks assigned, notebooks get filled, notebooks get corrected, tests and exams are announced, conducted, and scored. Obviously everything is alright about the school. Or is it? Pick up your bunch of report cards. Is every child progressing? Are their scores better than what it was the last time? Have they become better than what they were last year? If not, why? It is this aspect of the school’s function – improving children’s performance that Herbert Kohl became disturbed about. It is this aspect that we are pointing to.

Studying Extract 02
Form Adventures in Education by Willem van der Eyken and Barry Turner
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Examining the Extract
Malting School, established in 1924 had a purpose.

The general purpose of the Malting House Garden School is to provide, under expert and sympathetic supervision, the fullest opportunities for healthy growth in every direction, so that each child shall be free to gain control over his own body and knowledge of the physical world, to develop his natural interests, individual powers, and means of expression, while living in a happy children's community, the conditions of which will lead to normal social development.

With the purpose defined, the next thing is to come up with the implementation plan. Considering the process as an experiment, the school first of all decided to observe children, find out how they grow and learn in a free atmosphere. It was also decided to document all observations so that it could form the basis of a systematic study of children. An extract of such documentations is also given.

While children were free to explore and experiment with the physical world the teacher’s role was to nurture children’s free inquiry and activity by providing learning materials and situations. The ultimate aim was to give children the means of answering their own questions about the world.

Children in Malting School essentially had access to open classrooms. The documentation demonstrates this. It also shows how teachers and children interacted.

From this extract, we can list out some of the characteristics of an open classroom

1. A cordial atmosphere is established where students and teachers get to know each other better. This facilitates the emotional development of children (Pupils of this school were very young – at pre-school age)
2. Given the open atmosphere, children soon learn to direct their own investigations and learning (Extract 3 and 4 also point to this)
3. Children no longer feel burdened by adult disapproval and prohibition. This has far reaching implications. Children need not lie; run away from responsibilities; feel obliged to please adults … in the long run they need not feel guilty of their shortcomings.

This extract also points out that the position of teachers in such schools as this is not an easy one. The teacher has to be alert and aware of the implications of every remark, question, and act of the child, and respond appropriately with no appearance of indecision. He must possess unlimited patience and self-control.

Examining Ourselves
Proceedings in our classroom perhaps is directed by the timetable, the textbook and structured by us. Students may have some freedom within the confines of the activity they are up to – talk to each other, perhaps, move around a bit, perhaps, decide what to write in response to the question, perhaps.

Maybe, they do not have too much freedom. So what, does it burden them, does it restrict them. The issue is not just point 1, a cordial atmosphere. It is about providing opportunities to children to ask questions, pursue and find their own answers, take responsibility for their learning and make decisions. Is that not what we want them to do later in life?

You may agree to the Malting School’s viewpoint. If you do, compare it with your class. Identify those areas where this is allowed, where this becomes restricted. Identify those things you can do to unshackle the class. You may also believe the same goal can be achieved within your structured classroom. Try and articulate how those goals are still being achieved.

Studying Extract 03
From Education for Being – A Report on Experiences in an Active School by Rebeca Wild
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Examining the Extract
Just one day and the number of activities!

To begin with children were so cold that they made their intentions clear - they would just sit around and warm themselves. They would do nothing else.

But by the end of the day, we have an impressive list of things children did.

1. Helped complete the check-sheets
2. Organised tea for everyone
3. Chatted and exchanged notes about what they did during the weekend
4. Looked up the rain gauge and drew the weather graph
5. Had a recording session
6. Modelled a town
7. Printed an advertisement
8. Played games - guessing, measuring , …
9. Worked in the kitchen on recipes
10. Learnt words and used them
11. Read books
12. Used a microscope, read up about insects, drew them
13. Use Montessori materials for language and arithmetic
(May have missed out some, please add)

At the end of the day, children
1. are in a happy mood
2. were not tired or bored
3. were full of life
4. wanted to work till the last minute and were enjoying what they were doing

Notice that the three characteristics we identified while studying Extract 02 is reinforced here.

Examining Ourselves
In every school, children rush out happily when the bell rings. They are happy and some very happy. Left to themselves, they are never bored or tired. The question we should ask is whether children are
• happy, full of life and eager to participate in activities during school hours too.
• happy to do their school and homework
• happy to be learning

If we are not able to ensure this all the time, what factors are contributing? What can we do about those factors?

Studying Extract 04
From Free at last by Daniel Greenberg

Examining the Extract
This extract has just one message. If children want to do something, they will do it at all cost. The costs children willingly paid here were punctuality and hard work – hundreds of exercises, class quizzes, oral tests, homework – all executed to perfection.

The reward? They learnt in twenty weeks what they would normally learn in 6 years!

The explanation? "Because everyone knows," he answered, "that the subject matter itself isn't that hard. What's hard, virtually impossible, is beating it into the heads of youngsters who hate every step. The only way we have a ghost of a chance is to hammer away at the stuff bit by bit every day for years. Even then it does not work. Most of the sixth graders are mathematical illiterates. Give me a kid who wants to learn the stuff -- well, twenty hours or so makes sense."

The key here is motivation

Examining Ourselves
How do we understand what motivates children and how motivation levels can be kept high?

In a typical school where students do not have the freedom to decide what they want to learn, can we expect high motivational levels?

Can marks and competitions help in motivating children? Can it lead to learning?

If we do manage to spark off some interest, can we find ways of helping children pursue it?

 

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