School in the 1920s…

I show this picture to my 91-year-old mom and she is stunned. Where are the desks? Are they allowed to sit where they like? Who’s watching them? Where is the teacher??

We get talking about her own school days. She remembers walking to school, carrying her books in a suitcase, and meeting her friends Bertha and Joy. They sat in double desks with ink wells, facing the blackboard.

Mom recalls not enjoying school much and when I ask why, she tells me that nobody did! The teachers usually shouted although not specifically at her.  She remembers her teacher dictating spelling words. The girl beside her was ‘clever’ and wrote quickly, but she could not, of course, copy her answers. She recalls the teacher going round the class calling on each individual to respond and feeling relieved if she knew the answer.  She talks about her surprise when the 6th grade teacher once said something nice about her in front of the whole class  (‘I thought she didn’t like me’) and I love the fact that this special moment can still bring a smile to her face after eighty years. There’s a lesson there for teachers today…

A quick internet search brings up the history of the school and my mom  is amazed that I am able to find information, names and photographs from the 1920s. The site has a photo of Miss Meyer the headmistress at the time, and I’m told the children were afraid of her. I read that there was a hostel for girls who boarded at school during term time. My mom remembers she once forgot something in her classroom on a weekend and went, fearfully, to knock on the door at the hostel to ask if she could go into the school and retrieve the item.

I probe for more memories but, for now, that’s all I can get.

We don’t have ink wells any more, but it strikes me that in many schools, things haven’t changed all that much. Hopefully school is no longer a place for fear… of teachers, of failure, of humiliation or of punishment. I wonder how learning can occur under those conditions?

10 ways my thinking has changed…


1. I used to think it was about the teaching. Now I think it’s all about the learning.

2. I used to think my students learned best sitting facing the front of the classroom. Now I think they need to sit in groups, in order to collaborate and construct meaning together.

3. I used to think the classroom needed to be quiet and I needed to be in control. Now I think noisy lessons where the kids are engaged often reflect learning at its most vibrant.

4. I used to think silence had to be filled by repeating the question or asking a different question. Now I think silence means every student has enough time to think.

5. I used to think differentiation meant setting different tasks for different abilities. Now I think digital tools often  provide natural differentiation for different levels, abilities and interests.

6. I used to think every student had to put up his hand before he spoke and all conversation had to go through me. Now I think the best discussions are ones where the kids are responding to each other and I’m out of the picture.

7. I used to think that praising kids was necessary positive reinforcement. Now I think that feedback needs to be constructive and specific and praise on its own isn’t helpful.

8. I used to think exercise books had to be neat, with a margin drawn at the side. Now I think exercise books are for thinking, reflecting, scribbling ideas and working things out, so it doesn’t matter what they look like.

9. I used to think finished work should be hung on the wall so the class could see it. Now I think the best place for samples of learning is on the class blog or wiki where an authentic audience can read/listen and comment.

10. I used to think that assessment was to find out whether students had mastered a topic or a skill, and took the form of tests for which I gave grades. Now I think assessment should inform teaching /learning and can occur through any learning experience, including listening to what students say.

11. I used to think PD was through conferences and workshops. Now I think some of my best professional learning has been through Twitter and blogs.

12. I used to think the teacher was the teacher and the students were the learners. Now I think we’re all part of a community of learners… Oops, there are 12 😉

Please add your thinking to the list…

Series of posts on ’10 Ways …’ #4 10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning 10 ways to foster a love of learning 10 ways to create a culture of thinking

Past, present, future of education…

Scene 1:  The past

Students learned from the teacher.  Facts were learned from text books. Learning took place in the classroom.  Teachers asked questions and students answered them. Information about far away places was found in books.

Scene 2: The present

Students learn from the teacher, each other, the internet, books, movies, people inside the school, people outside the school, people in other countries.  Students learn through inquiry. They ask questions, wonder, explore, experiment and investigate new ideas. They make online global connections and learn about far away places directly from people who live in them! Here’s an example, where one thing lead to another…

  • Our school has recently established a kitchen garden program. Our students in Year 4 and 5 explore related issues in their units of inquiry.  On alternate fortnights, the children either have lessons in the garden or in the kitchen.
  • A TED talk by Jamie Oliver prompted me to blog about our kitchen garden program.
  • One of the comments on my post was from Bernadette, who’s school in Kansas, USA has a similar sort of kitchen garden program.
  • We engaged in conversation via Twitter and email and considered the possibility of a collaboration. This one hasn’t happened yet, but it will! We hope to start an ongoing collaboration about how our gardens grow and change during the year.
  • However, we have established a connection between our prep children (they call it kindergarten) . Our little ones  learned that there are children just like them far away in another country. They answered the questions sent to them by their new friends in Kansas via Voicethread and thereby began an ongoing conversation…

Scene 3:  The Future

Teachers from Scene 1 could never have envisioned what’s happening in Scene 2.  I can imagine the immediate future, since there are many inspiring educators who are already way ahead of our school in creating global connections and collaborating across the world in all sorts of exciting ways.  They are motivating us to flatten our classroom walls still more.  And after that…the possibilities are endless!