School Thoughts

Competition and cooperation

If you prefer to read this story in Spanish, please click here


I’m going to tell you a real story that took place a couple of years ago in a school where I worked. By that time, I was a second grade teacher in charge of twenty-seven students.

The headmistress had commissioned all the teachers to ask the kids to draw on a special sheet of paper some motifs related to the school’s patron saint. They were allowed to use markers, gouaches, color glues, etc.

The priest, who was the owner of this idea, thought this activity as a competition, to reward the best drawings by school grade. The teacher would be the person in charge to perform a ballot between the students to find the winner.

Finally, the day came. Some of my students had brought, besides of the requested materials, a lot of different items (like rolls of toilet paper and boxes) to make a 3D model. I didn’t say no, because I appreciated that they had had such idea.

Other kids asked me if they could work in pairs, because they wanted to combine their ideas. Of course, I said yes!

The clock was ticking: kids deployed all their creativity, they share their work tools, and some of them collaborated in their partner’s page.

At that moment, the headmistress entered the classroom with a notebook, ready to register the “winner” of that competition. The kids look at each other, without understanding what was going on.

Then I told them that they had to choose a winner just raising their hands and voting the best (using their own judgment); I asked the headmistress to return after a while. Kid voted and, as expected, every one picked up their own work, except three students, who decided to reward a friends’ production. That was the winner, with three votes. Only that child received a prize. All of   other students received a consolation prize.

And you will be wondering what happened with the kids that modeled a 3D sculpture… well, they were left out of this category and they were included in a new one where they were the only competitors. They never received their prize.

From that moment, the kids arrived to a sad conclusion: that it was important to compete in order to be better than the others.

This story got me thinking several questions:

If we’re in real troubles to decide if an artistic work is better than other (in what direction?) How can we expect that kids can vote? (with what criterion?)

Why do we start promoting competition between kids since short age? Why do we have the need to determine the best and the worst student?

How’s possible that we may not have grasped that small children are egocentric (as many adults) and they’re going to consider that their job is the best?

Let’s start thinking what attitudes we’d like to promote. What’s important for us? To raise children who think competition is necessary, even when they have to eliminate each other? Or promote cooperation and empathy?

What do you think?

Translation courtesy of Silvia Siccardi

School Thoughts

One-to-one classes

To read this post in Spanish, please click here

-Manuela, please draw an equilateral triangle with side lengths of 3 cm. – requests the teacher.

She thinks for a few moments, grabs the ruler and draws the figure.

-And… how would you do the same using a protractor as well?

Manuela tries a few times on the page until she finally gets it.

The imaginary dialog set out above is linked with what happens when a teacher focuses his/her attention on a student and looks at their learning process. Today, I want to talk about this, about the benefits of private lessons where there is one teacher and one student, in a school environment or out of it.

Among other things, customized education allows the teacher to:

Observe how significant (or insignificant) was the explanation given to his student and what level of understanding has he or she achieved.

Take some notes about the time needed for the pupil to provide an answer.

Perceive body language movements and twitches to help him/her detect what instructions trigger tension or uncertainty.

Be able to reformulate the activity if it has not been fully understood or if it produces an answer that is not correct.

Use different strategies, involving some games and use of senses, to produce a significant learning.

These strategies stimulate students to:

Value their own learning process and the strategies used to solve problems.

Find the content they can’t understand and why they can’t achieve their goals (metacognition).

These positive points are blocked when, instead of one student, teachers have thirty or forty students ready to learn.

In this respect, it is hard to set teaching mechanisms that are significant for the whole class. Moreover, in an 80-minute class with thirty students, the time spent with one student will be no longer than just five minutes. The remaining time will be necessarily spent on controlling other variables including ensuring that all students do their work, replying parents’ notes on the communication notebook, assisting sick students, managing behavioral problems, receiving unexpected “visits”.

On the other hand, this brief time that teacher can spend with one single student is not really quality time because while he/she is providing the explanation, the background noise doesn’t help concentration.

We need to develop new strategies and find new ways in our daily pedagogical practice that guarantee students understand and learn all the contents.

What do you think?

Translation Courtesy of Laura Marifil


School Thoughts

Red shocks students

Para leer este artículo en castellano, hacé click aquí.

Not too long ago, someone said it was not a good idea to correct with a red pen, because it could traumatize children.  Shortly after, another “specialist” performed a scientific study and confirmed this as a fact.

Since that time, it became a “holy word” and, in the school context, there is a strong disapproving glance if a teacher tries to use that colour to correct his student’s work.

However, there is no problem in using orange with this purpose, or green (this colour has a high popularity), violet, pink, even a fluorescent colour: if your students can understand your corrections, then it’s ok…. But do not mess with RED!

A couple of words come to my mind, related with this colour: blood, violence; and I get really scared about that and I think: oh, it’s been an act of cruelty to use this colour all this time! Let’s pray for our pupils to forgive us!

Leaving aside irony (just a little bit) I am quite concerned that we leave the specialists say what’s right and what’s wrong… for some unknown reason we don’t question them.

Wow! Aren’t we professionals?

Let’s  put the feet on the ground, red is just a colour as much as others; in fact, it has an impact (all interior designers know that), but a relative one if we consider that the really important thing is the type of correction (and comments) that are made with that colour.

In short, if I use green but I write in a student’s work: “Redo” “Your handwriting is not clear”, “There are a lot of spelling mistakes” (the only thing left to say is: you suck!), colour would have no relevance at all.

Damocle’s sword can hurt students, even if it’s green or red.

Therefore, I consider that it’s important to value kid’s work, to remark what they can do right. Of course it’s necessary to highlight the mistakes in order to get better but it’s not the same if a teacher writes: “Your handwriting isn’t clear”, than if he says: “I’d love to know your story but it’s difficult for me to understand your handwriting. Could you write it again?”

When will the time come when we begin to respect more our kids, to consider their productions as works of future writers, competent users of written language?

Translation courtesy of Silvia Siccardi
School Thoughts Social studies

School Speeches

To read this article in Spanish, please click here

On this August 17thwe meet once more time to commemorate a new anniversary of the death of our great General “Don José de San Martín. San Martín was a man that….”

That way could start the reading of the classic “allusive words”, that many of us will remember if we bring to our memory the school ceremonies.

As a child, the image of one of my teachers standing in front of the large audience comes to my mind, with a sheet of paper in a hand and a microphone in the other one, trying to transmit with her words a message to think and take into account.

Nowadays I’m a primary school teacher and since I’ve witnessed a lot of school events, I have a doubt that still haunts me: what’s the real meaning of those words and who is the main target audience?

If we analyze each and every one of speech’s word, we’ll see that it’s clearly conceived for an adult public, not just because of the use of non- common words but for the political and ideological message itself. For this reason, only the adults are able to decode and understand the message. Kids are excluded.

Furthermore, it’s important to say that many of the speeches are a faithful copy of others that have been read in other institutions with different local realities.

This suggests that:

Teachers may think speeches are just a useless formalism and consequently, it’s not a big deal to borrow a speech from a colleague or a text that has been read previously.

Teachers may think speeches are timeless and it’s possible to take them out of context without any problem.

Teachers may give more relevance, time and resources to the show (role-play, samples, etc) than to the commemorative words.

The question is inevitable:  does it make any sense to read a text that will not be fully understood by the majority of the audience, in this case the students?[/pullquote]

Besides, there’s another factor linked to the Argentinean educational context. This factor is related to technology and a lack of modern equipment (or its breakage) when the date of the event is closed. There is a negative impact because if the teacher doesn’t have a microphone that works properly, it’s difficult to transmit a clearly audible message to the audience.

Finally, I want to submit for consideration, the following question: why don’t we think to resignify the allusive words so that everyone would understand our message?
Why must it be a read text? Why can’t it be acted? Why is not possible to use any another resources to spread the meaning? (Using technology, arts, games, etc)
We need to make some changes in order to include the kids, who are our main target.

Translation courtesy of Silvia Siccardi