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What Did Your Pupils Learn For Themselves?

October 20, 2007

DonGrabEvery time you think you’re getting somewhere, something or someone comes along to remind you that you still need to be doing more. Don’s Blog is one of these places!

In a recent post Don pointed out how much work his son had put into studying and learning in preparation for his driving test. Don finished by wondering: “…how do we make other types of learning as attractive?”

As I read the post, I realised that it contained a question I needed to ask my Higher English class. When I saw them, I told them about what Don had written, and asked them about the amount of extra work they do as preparation for all of their subjects. I won’t say I was surprised at what I learned, but I was disappointed. The question I put to my class was this: What can you tell me about any of the writers or texts we are studying that I haven’t told you first? In other words, how much extra study have you been doing?

My class had the good grace to be embarrassed as they admitted that they couldn’t tell me anything ‘new’… With Don’s post in mind, we started a discussion about why they valued the driving test so much. Quite unprompted, two different pupils said that passing the driving test allowed them “to go places”. The irony was not lost on me…

One thing that we did agree on was the need for me to set them some assignments which would force them to do ALL the work… and strangely, as well as helping them to hone their study skills, it will make my life easier as well as they will be doing the preparation…

So… why don’t you try doing something similar with your classes. Ask them for information about whatever it is you’re teaching but which you haven’t given/taught them. And then start asking yourself how you can encourage them to start becoming the independent learners you know they need to be… I’ll keep you posted how my classes are coming along!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Don permalink
    October 21, 2007 10:36 pm


    I really like the quote “To go places” – do you mind of I use it?

  2. October 21, 2007 10:50 pm

    Not at all! What isn’t/wasn’t clear from my post is that the two pupils were actually from different classes and didn’t hear each other say the same thing.

    While you’re there (so to speak) I’ve tried commenting on your own blog but edubuzz appears to be convinced that I’m a spammer… so apologies if I appear to have been silent… I have been trying to speak!

  3. October 24, 2007 12:26 pm

    For obvious reasons I can’t do this now, but I’d like to share two incidents from the recent past which startled me – because I never dreamed that my pupils did anything off their own bat any more than I did. The first was an S5 boy who became so obsessed with Greene’s “The Heart of the Matter” that he spent an unbelievable amount of time annotating parallels/symbols/themes so that by the end of term his copy bulged with postits and he’d fallen way behind with his Maths …

    And the other surprise came when a 4th year boy announced that he’d learned Donne’s “Batter my Heart” off by heart because he was so impressed by it. He then recited it – with perfect attention to meaning.

    As neither activity had any real end as far as exams went, I rejoiced in the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake – but never looked for it.

  4. November 13, 2007 5:14 am

    Nice post. Made me feel grateful for the few I have in my AP English who were quoting King Lear and clearly poking around out there on their own. Of course this was a small minority.

    But your story took me back to last year and made me wonder why I’d forgotten it this year. Last year I gave an entire history unit – WW I to Hiroshima – to my 15-year-olds. Had them make a wiki textbook (one chapter section per pair) and present that chapter as a pair lecture. Filmed them and put them on their wiki chapter. Like you, I pleasantly discovered that they were working harder, engaging more, and clearly learning all over the place, while I was basically playing camera-man, occasional challenger/clarifier/fact-checker, and YouTube uploader.

    But now I remember why I forgot. Last year they weren’t reading Lear and Paradise Lost (and my students are English-proficient, but still not native speaking, Koreans). I fear they’d waste all our time.

    But maybe I’m wrong. (And maybe I’m wasting their time for them, instead of letting them waste their own 😉 )

    Thanks for the reminder. I enjoyed the post. See you in my reader 🙂

  5. November 13, 2007 5:15 am

    Link above took you to my old home. Just switched to wordpress myself. Sorry about that 🙂

  6. November 13, 2007 9:17 pm

    @Clay: I’ve been having a day of extreme synchronicity! Your timely comments have meshed with comments from a new teacher I was interviewing today and have been blended by some of my pupils who have started to be more creative in their work…

    What I find surprising is that the skills I am trying to encourage are the ones that my own kids have and which I relied on to get through University… something’s very wrong with the way I teach if I’m having to remind my pupils to do what should come naturally!

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