I have been thinking about next year, about my new position as Literacy and English Coordinator in a new P to 12 school (we will only be up to Year 9 next year and up to Year 12 in 2012) and what I have learned at my previous job so that I don’t have to make the same mistakes – it’s good to make new ones, I always think. I have been reading a book by Robert L Fried called The Passionate Teacher and it has really got me thinking. He talks about the Game of School and how many students and teachers are prepared to play it. In a chapter called “The greatest obstacle we face” he says: ‘The particular offence of playing the Game of School lies in the disengagement of our intellect and our feelings from tasks that deserve to be taken seriously: tasks like writing, reading, thinking, planning, listening, researching, analyzing, performing, applying, evaluating. We do harm when we reduce these acts of intellect, creativity and judgment to rote exercises, perfunctory deeds or meaningless gestures.’ Often this is what we see at the senior levels of secondary schools.
Wendy Drexler in a podcast of the It’s Elementary show on CCK08 mentions that senior students are often prepared to sit back and be passive in the classroom – and that fits in with my own experience at previous schools – making learning less exciting, less real. It could be the nature of the assessment and indeed the purpose of the assessment at this level – to rank the students in order to grant university places to the most “suitable” students for the courses (if indeed this is what it is for – whether it is an effective way of deciding who gets into which course is another matter entirely.) But the fact that some senior students are so adept at playing the Game of School is due to their having learnt it so well in previous years. There is a lot to think about here. Clearly it is not just a problem of the individual teacher or the individual classroom. But I think it is my responsibility in my classrooms not to perpetuate the Game of School.
As Fried says: ‘The Game of School is very pervasive, and its rituals are deeply entrenched in the actions and expectations of students and teachers. But it is not immutable. It can and must be changed.’ He suggests that we can “stimulate the students’ imaginations and mental energy”, “do ourselves what we ask the students to do”, and “a teacher who anticipates creativity and hidden talents in the students will greet the class quite differently to one who looks for deficits and defects”. All the way through the book so far (I haven’t finished it yet) the author is answering the readers’ objections – I know schools are busy and there is content to be got through etc – and I feel the same thinking this through myself in this post – but there isn’t enough time, but the students are resistant – and yet…
One of the ways to meet students where they are at and to treat them as partners in the learning enterprise is to use social networking tools and technology such as interactive whiteboards. A lot of the technology seems to be very appropriate for primary or junior secondary. Many say that it is because of the high stakes testing (here in Victoria we have the VCE exams which are quite stressful for both students and teachers) but if it is about the effectiveness of the learning and we are saying that engaged students learn better shouldn’t we be using these methods to engage students when it matters the most, not going back to the older transmission based modes of teaching in the senior years? Andrew Douch is using technology in an engaging way with his Biology podcast, but I don’t know many senior students who are creating their own podcasts to learn despite teaching others and constructing their own knowledge being perhaps the ‘best’ way to learn. I would love to hear about some being created. IWBs seem to be used in most senior classes, in my experience, as presentation tools, whether it is the student presenting or the teacher. I would love to know about interactive uses of IWBs especially for senior History, English and Literature classes. Please drop me a comment if you know of any.
It is clearly not only the technology or tools that will help us overcome the playing of the Game of School. It is definitely about relationships and respect, and many different types of teaching styles can result in authentic engagement of both students and teacher in the development of learning for life. I must say that I am looking forward to the challenges ahead. In a few days I will be meeting the other English teacher at the new school and I will know more precisely what I will be doing next year. Wish me luck.