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
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
And then he goes on to make a list of all things that
are wrong with the school.
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.
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
Scores in Reading: 3.1, 3.4, 2.0, 4.2, 3.1
(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
Examining the Extract
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)
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.
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
Examining the Extract
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
At the end of the day, children
Notice that the three characteristics we identified while studying Extract 02 is reinforced here.
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
Examining the Extract
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
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?