Let me take you through an hour in the life of your average primary school teacher.
It’s Thursday. It’s Week 8 of term.
Your child’s teacher is standing in front of twelve classes.
The bell to end recess sounded three minutes ago. She looks out at 350 kids trying to organise themselves into what resemble class lines. She’s still wearing her hat, but is now carrying her sunglasses and a bruised, half-eaten apple. She gets cranky at the stragglers, and then, once she sees that their teacher has dragged themselves from the staffroom/classroom, dismisses each class. She leaves her class till last and leads them back to their room. She places her hat and sunglasses onto her desk and throws the apple into the bin.
She notices the English books still lying open on the table as they didn’t quite finish the task before recess and mentally adds these to the marking pile that magically restores itself with interest whenever it dips below a manageable amount.
She regrets not going to the bathroom before her parent meeting that morning, forgetting she had recess duty. She asks the class helpers to collect the English books and directs the rest of the class to, ‘get out their Maths books.’
As expected, this request is met with the excitement usually reserved for parents when they ask their children to go to bed.
She then has 15 minutes to teach division with fractional remainders. She wishes she could have continued on with her English lesson but accepts that this is her job. She turns on the Smartboard. Of course this isn’t working. Again.
The usual six kids understand division with fractional remainders before she has said a word and demonstrate the enthusiasm of six-week old puppies trying to answer all her questions.
Of course, the rest of the class is more than happy to let them.
The teacher knows this will happen, so randomly asks a boy in the front row who doesn’t have his hand up. His blank, bright-red face clearly shows his exertions on the basketball court do not reflect his passion for Maths. Realising the error of her ways, she looks to one of the yelping labradoodle pups jumping up and down in her seat ready with the correct answer.
Everyone in the class is pleased with the result.
Except for the five other puppies who didn’t get called upon, but their disappointment is short-lived as they seek to answer the next question.
With the explanation finally over and the task set, she then works at a table with the same group of six she worked with yesterday. And the day before.
Today’s challenge is that her group of six have confused division with fractional remainders with a new lunch item offered at the canteen. The seventeen ‘kids-with-no-learning-issues’ are left to their own devices but are more interested in re-living the Top 5 shots on the handball court than completing the task she set 10 minutes ago. As expected, the puppies have already completed this task, along with the extension activities set and now find themselves in the reading corner on bean bags quietly reading as a reward.
15 minutes later she decides to class mark to save adding to the already out-of-control marking pile. As she goes around the room asking for answers, she is not in the least bit surprised to discover that the usual suspects have half-completed their work, a quarter are still disappointed they didn’t order it for lunch and the puppies, plus some of the ‘kids-with-no-learning-issues’, have actually grasped the concept. There are of course the puppies’ friends who simply copied in their answers, but at least their book work shows they are doing something in case anybody checks.
The bell rings and she is delighted to see the smiling face of Mr Music standing at the door, who enthusiastically sings, ‘Good Morning, 6R!’ To which they duly respond in song, ‘Good Morning, Mr Music,’ in various keys.
Two minutes later and she is left in a void of silence.
From her desk she surveys the room. Chairs left out, scraps of paper on the floor that have been blown off the table by the overhead fan that looks as though it will fly off its mounting at any given point. She glances at the pile of English books, the email reminding her off the professional development meeting after school, the geography lesson half-planned for after lunch, her empty tea cup and decides …. she really does need to go to the bathroom.
Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, was recently quoted as saying, ‘Solutions are unlikely to lie in schools alone and require parents to think what more they can do at home to help.’
Whilst the above scenario does not relate to every classroom across Australia, it highlights the challenges faced by every teacher, across every classroom in Australia. It highlights that our Education Minister understands this too and is looking at ways we can better support not only our teachers, but our children.
We need a win-win scenario.
Flipped Learning could be the solution. At the very least it’s worth exploring.
A platform that ‘teaches’ the child the concept at home. Students enter the classroom the following day with a certain level of understanding. Suddenly, the focus of the lesson is not on the teacher’s explanation, but on more abstract problem-solving tasks, either individually or in groups, which the teacher oversees.
Let’s imagine that the previous night’s homework was to watch a video on division with fractional remainders, and to complete some online practice questions.
When the teacher arrives at work the next morning, she spends 5 minutes looking at the online data gathered from this task and immediately has a much greater understanding of where each student is placed, without having ‘taught’ or marked anything!
Let’s rewind the scenario given above to the exact moment the teacher asked the class to, ‘get out their Maths books.’
Instead of being hit with the usual groans, the class now seem excited to test their knowledge.
They are also pleased to know they do not have to sit through a 15-minute explanation.
The class is then broken up into groups to work on real-life tasks that involve division with fractional remainders. The ‘kids-with-no-learning-issues’ now find their voice and contribute to the task as wannabe puppies. The puppies themselves are helping those group of six who can now see that this division with fractional remainders actually does relate to Maths, while the teacher is monitoring all of the groups and contributing when she feels the need to guide and challenge.
As you are already in your imaginary world, try imagining this:
The night before the division with fractional remainders video, the students had watched a video on dividing decimals. Now, what started out as frustrating and confusing, became simple and rewarding. Some students certainly would have benefitted from parental assistance. (Most) parents would have certainly benefitted from being shown themselves first, which then enabled them to help.
You may now need to enter even deeper into your dream world but try to imagine your child not complaining at being asked to complete their Maths homework, a direct result of the success they had the night before with the dividing decimals video and the confidence they felt in the classroom that day.
Your child is now prepared to put up with a little bit of pain in order to learn at their own pace.
Imagine this had been going on for not only days or months, but years.
Now you really must be dreaming.
But remember the old saying: Dreams can come true.